Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
The chefs who sell tacos, barbecue and other goodies out of food trucks say it’s just rude to park in front of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and for the most part, they don’t do it.
But a proposal at City Hall would make it illegal – and that has many vendors simmering.
City Councilor Isaac Benton this week introduced a proposed ordinance that would restrict where food trucks can set up, in addition to establishing a new permitting system with fees.
The measure would prohibit food trucks from parking on a city street within 100 feet of a restaurant, unless they have permission.
But it also would loosen some restrictions. Food trucks, for example, could set up on private property in most areas, as long as the property owner agreed.
Benton said he supports food trucks in general, but traditional restaurants deserve consideration, too. Some restaurants have complained, he said, about food vendors parking right out front.
“Everyone likes them,” Benton said of food trucks. “I do, too, but sometimes there are conflicts – primarily proximity to existing restaurants where it might be somewhat unfair competition.”
Food-truck owners, meanwhile, fear the proposed restrictions are too broad, and they dispute that they’re unfair competition.
Matthew Fuemmeler, who owns the “Boiler Monkey” diner and bus in addition to a traditional restaurant by that name, said the 100-foot rule could push food trucks out of the most desirable stretches of Central Avenue, where people gather in Nob Hill and Downtown.
The popularity of food trucks has exploded in Albuquerque over the last few years, a natural complement to the growing number of local breweries that offer beer, but not much food, especially in the Downtown and Nob Hill areas. The city now has about 100 food trucks in operation.
Some pubs now screen food trucks and invite the best to set up shop outside on a rotating basis, allowing customers to grab some food outside and take it in while they drink. But some bars sell their own food and aren’t keen on the curbside competition.
Mobile food vendors say the competition is fierce and they fear the possibility of new restrictions.
In a sprawling city, Fuemmeler said, it’s already hard enough for vendors to find pedestrian-friendly spots.
“It’s a free market,” he said. “If we kowtow to one end of this market … we’re choosing which businesses can survive and which can’t.”
Katie Calico – who, along with her husband, Chris White, owns and operates the TFK Smokehouse trailer – said she doesn’t view herself as drawing from the same customer base as traditional restaurants. No one brings you bread and appetizers while you’re waiting in the heat or cold for food from a sidewalk vendor, she said.
“It should be the customer who gets to choose” where to eat, she said.
But Carol Wight of the New Mexico Restaurant Associations said she likes the proposed ordinance. Starting a restaurant is a sizeable investment, she said, and it could really hurt to have someone just come along and park their food truck out front.
A distance requirement would help, she said.
“I do think it’s necessary,” she said.
Benton’s proposal is a long way from approval. It’s been referred to the city’s Environmental Planning Commission, an appointed body that will review the legislation and make a recommendation to the City Council.
Benton said it’s aimed at long-standing, minor conflicts involving food trucks. His goal is to strike a balance, he said, between the interests of mobile vendors and built-out restaurants.
“I always consider these things open for amendment or discussion,” Benton said. “I don’t think (food trucks) have anything to fear.”
The city doesn’t have any specific on-street limits for food trucks.
Under Benton’s proposal, food trucks and other “mobile food units” would be:
- Allowed to occupy parking spaces on city streets as long as they have a permit. The city would charge a reasonable annual fee “that gives due consideration to the value of the privilege of operating from public rights-of-way in the city.” The fee isn’t specified in the legislation.
- Exempt from the traditional time limits for occupying a parking space. But they could have only two spaces for up to four hours a day. They would have to leave by 11 p.m. most days and by 2 a.m. on weekends.
- Allowed on private property, except in residential zones. The food truck must, however, have written permission from the property owner.
- Required to stay at least 100 feet away from the entrance to any restaurants, unless they have written permission. The ordinance doesn’t specifically define a restaurant, except as a “site-built food service establishment.”
The distance would be measured along the sidewalk or street edge. If the food truck is across the street, the width of the street would be included in the measurement.
Benton, however, said his intent was for the 100-foot requirement to apply only to the same side of the street.
Food truck operators say they’re concerned about the 100-foot distance requirement, especially at Tractor’s Nob Hill location, which is across the street from, but near, an Arby’s sandwich shop.
In any case, the ordinance was drafted to apply a similar approach to the rules used in Austin, Boston and San Francisco, according to City Council staff.
Patrick Humpf, owner of the Gedunk food truck and an administrator for a local co-operative of food trucks, said he expects the distance requirements to generate widespread opposition among vendors.
Most food trucks won’t park outside a restaurant as a matter of “professional courtesy,” he said, but staying 100 feet away isn’t necessarily the answer.
“I’d rather not have to go to them (for permission) and have my rights as a vendor curtailed in order to give a brick-and-mortar (restaurant) that extra boost,” he said.