Food truck operators want change in city law

Food truck operating on city street.
Food truck operating on city street.

New Orleans, La. -- Food truck operators say they are hamstrung by old city laws.

They have become much numerous in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.  City Council President Stacy Head says it is time to update city regulations for the trucks.

On Tuesday afternoon, customers lined up outside a taco truck on Claiborne Avenue.  "It's here to stay," said Rachel Billow, president of the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition.

Billow went before the City Council's Economic Development and Special Development Project Committee.  "If we were to add say 20 permits, that would be available for people to start new trucks; those 20 trucks would create about a hundred jobs," said Billow.

"We need to work on the law to make sure that it makes sense for 2012," said Councilwoman Head.

Head said several areas of the current law need to be modified. "They have to move every 45 minutes -- that is not workable with the kinds of businesses that they have. Their permitting fees need to be increased from what they were set at in 1956," she stated.

Billow said food trucks are a less expensive way for entrepreneurs to get a food service business going.  "My truck, La Cocinita, we park in front of late-night bars that don't serve food," said Billow.

Currently, the number of city permits for food trucks is capped at 100.  "And that includes not just what you would think of as a mobile food vendor like a taco truck, but it also includes people who sell seafood, people who sell fruits and vegetables, snowball trucks, everything like that is put in one category right now," said Head.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said the issue of food trucks is not new and over the years she has received questions about their operation.  ''Who is overseeing the fact that this food is sanitary to eat? That's the only complaint I've heard in 20 years," Clarkson said during the committee meeting.

"They are clean, and if they're not they get shut down by the state, so they are regulated," Head said in response.

And Head believes the food trucks would be an asset in areas of the city where residents do not have a lot of places to eat, areas she calls "food deserts."

"What a wonderful place for two or three mobile food vendors to go, so that people can come out and walk around their neighborhood and enjoy an evening out.  More eyes on the street, more people walking around their neighborhood in the evening leads to a safer place," said Head.

Some restaurant owners have expressed concerns about the trucks serving meals.

"The Louisiana Restaurant Association does not currently have a position on food trucks or mobile vendors. The LRA is a statewide trade association, therefore we are looking at this issue as a whole, not market by market," said Wendy Waren, vice-president of communications for the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

Head said she will work with the restaurant community in New Orleans to ease any concerns about competition from the food trucks, "To make sure that we mitigate against any of those fears," Head said.

Head hopes current law can be modified before year's end.