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At D.C. Council hearing, students stand up against food truck regulations

Media Credit: Samuel Klein | Photo Editor
Doug Povich, center, chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, attends a D.C. Council hearing Friday on new regulations for food trucks operating in the District.

Student leaders joined more than 50 residents and business people from around the city Friday to speak out against a proposed crackdown on food trucks.

Under the new rules, a lottery would dish out a limited number of parking spots, allowing food trucks to operate in those areas between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Trucks not chosen in the lottery would have to park at least 500 feet away.

That would mean just three trucks could park on the Foggy Bottom Campus at one time, pushing out the dozen or so vendors that often line up on the popular food truck row – H Street between 21st and 22nd streets.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Food trucks, serving kabobs and cupcakes on H Street, often flock to campus each weekday.

Scott Lauermann, the Student Association’s vice president for financial affairs, said at the public hearing that food trucks liven the campus’ atmosphere.

“A few years ago, we’d see one or two on our campus, and now on H Street we see 12 during the day, with lines on every one,” the sophomore said. “They do provide a lot of cultural diversity and a great source of food for our students, and we’d really like to see them stay.”

The SA pushed to allow food trucks to accept GWorlds in December, and Ryan Counihan, chair of the finance committee, said students might be able to use their cards at the trucks this fall.

Counihan said members of the SA met last week with Vincent Orange, chair of the D.C. Council’s regulatory committee, and both Orange and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray asked them to testify on behalf of GW students.

“I really think [food trucks] should be given a fair shot,” Counihan said, adding that the sales tax food trucks charge their customers puts them on an equal playing field with brick-and-mortar restaurants. The city has argued that food trucks are given an unfair advantage because their overhead costs are not as high as the other businesses.

The D.C. Council has until June 22 to pass or reject the vending regulations, after which members cannot amend the rules without passing emergency legislation.

“If we were to vote today on these regulations, I can tell you that these regulations are not going to pass,” Orange said during the seven-and-a-half-hour-long hearing. “I think what we have been able to do today is push people to the point where these regulations, with some minor tweaks, can move forward and we can get this in place before the end of this calendar year.”

The Council enters its summer recess July 15.

Jackson Carnes, a junior and member of the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said at the hearing that the regulations would stifle entrepreneurship and consumer choice.

“Foggy Bottom has historically had few dining options, and in recent years, food trucks have filled this void,” he said. “These regulations will transform D.C. overnight, from a leader in mobile vending to one of the worst in the country with a one-size-fits-all approach.”

The lottery would especially hurt customers who have enjoyed a burgeoning D.C. subculture, said Kristina Kern, who runs the popcorn truck Stella’s PopKern.

“The really cool thing about being an owner of a food truck is that you’re a part of this really neat culture,” she said. “If there’s this lottery, and all the trucks that win that lottery are kabob trucks, you’re stifling customers’ choices.”

At the hearing, some restaurant owners who run brick-and-mortar shops in Adams Morgan and Farragut Square spoke out in favor of the regulations, saying the food truck craze has hurt their businesses.

Steven Loeb, who owns Loeb’s NY Deli on 17th and I streets, likened the food trucks crowding Farragut Square every morning to “the Wild West” and said it can also be a safety hazard. He added that his deli, which serves K Street customers near campus, has seen declining revenues because of competition from food trucks.

Gray, whose mayoral administration includes the city’s regulatory agency, has faced flak for the proposed regulations. But Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Nicholas Majett said the mayor supports the food truck industry’s creativity.

“There is absolutely no plan, desire, hope or wish for this administration to have food trucks banned from operating in the District of Columbia,” he said.

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council rated the District less business-friendly than all 50 states, compared to Maryland’s No. 17 spot and Virginia’s rank at No. 10. Council member David Grosso called the ranking “an embarrassment to me every time I think about it.”

Famed chef José Andrés, who taught at GW this semester, also entered the D.C. food fight when he told the Washington Post last week that restaurants and food trucks “can coexist successfully,” though the city needed tighter regulations.

If the proposed regulations fail in the Council, food trucks will continue to follow “ice cream truck” rules that require parked vendors to have a line of customers waiting for service at all times.

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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