Jacksonville, FL - A full crowd in Jacksonville’s City Council chambers, including dozens of food truck owners and even more supporters speaking out against proposed regulations for the city’s food trucks.
Councilman Reggie Brown, who is pushing the change, began the public meeting saying there is no current reference to food trucks in the city’s code. The Office of General Counsel says while there is regulation at the state level, there is nothing right now the city directly enforces- with the exception of code issues around trucks like garbage disposal.
“The city has a responsibility to ensure public safety,” Brown says.
A general outline of the proposal as it stands was first laid out, including limits on when and where the food trucks could operate. Brown emphasized from the beginning that this is a working draft that is far from complete. That was welcome news to truckies- who believe the draft as written would put them out of business.
“Setting regulations, there’s no problem with that. But setting regulations that are making it impossible for a business to succeed I think is unfair,” says On The Fly Sandwiches and Stuff owner Andrew Ferenc.
A lot of the time today was spent with food truck owners squashing misconceptions held by Brown and the other councilmen and city staffers in attendance.
“I pay rent in two places- I have a lot Downtown that we rent and we also have a kitchen… My overhead isn’t as low as everybody thinks it is,” Ferenc says.
Another big question surrounds the location where food trucks could operate under this regulation. The proposal now says food trucks would not be allowed to set up in a residential neighborhood. For The Loving Cup food truck owner Matt Lennon, that means losing thousands by not being able to serve some nursing homes or other residential events with which he has built a relationship.
“It’s going to be so painful if I have to close my doors and go get a job for me because I dumped everything I have in to this,” Lennon says.
Brown tells me he was unaware food trucks operated as caterers in some situations, and he does not intend to stop that from happening. The intent behind limiting residential activity circles mainly around “trucks” he’s seen in neighborhoods set up –sometimes more as trailers on bricks than trucks- and never moving.
“They’re skirting all the regulations because they’re operating as a food truck, but we know they’re there 24 hours a day 7 days a week,” Brown says.
While his experience in residential neighborhoods was the inspiration behind much of this legislation, a handful of Downtown business owners came out to say the urban core is a concern.
“If they don’t look at that, then they’re going to see brick and mortar businesses shutting down,” says Pita Pit owner Annd Patel.
Patel says Downtown Jacksonville is not vibrant right now in attracting enough people for a steady lunchtime rush. He’s built his location near the Duval County Courthouse from the ground up, so he has a stake in that location and can’t just pick up and move.
“It takes away from the people who have invested,” Patel says.
Several businesses owners from right off Hemming Plaza also spoke about the business decline they’ve seen, or the increase in garbage in their area tied to food truck customers.
But many Downtown businesses came out in support of food trucks as well. Some of them actually own a food truck in addition to their business, others partner with food trucks, and still others enjoy the variety it provides for their workers seeking a quick lunch option. The Downtown Investment Authority also passed a resolution supporting food trucks and expressing concern about the current proposal just moments before today’s public meeting began.
The Mayor’s Office tells me once this legislation comes together, they would want it to be vetted by the DIA before deciding whether to support it.
Still another interest in this discussion is businesses who support food trucks. Chriss Brown owns the Beaver Street Commissary, where several food trucks cook and store food. The location provides a state inspected and regulated facility for these trucks to operate, and Brown says if they were to have to shut down or move, she would lose the clientele. Other businesses who perform repairs on the trucks mirrored her concern about a potential loss in business, should the regulations prove too restricting.
Ultimately, Councilman Brown recruited more than a dozen people today to take part in a special committee which will meet within two weeks to start figuring out what kind of compromise can be reached in drafting this legislation.
“I don’t see major changes, I see a few modifications,” he says.
He’s already looking at changes from the current proposal, like not limiting the number of coolers allowed in the trucks. He says a curfew is still an option, however.
Brown hopes to have the legislation written and ready to present in from of Jacksonville’s City Council within three months.