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Spokane City Council tables vote on food truck regulations

Chef Allen Skelton, who co-owns the Couple of Chefs food truck with fiancée Joile Forral, makes a signature burger for a customer on Thursday in downtown Spokane. The Spokane City Council has delayed a vote on proposed food truck regulations. (Colin Mulvany)
Chef Allen Skelton, who co-owns the Couple of Chefs food truck with fiancée Joile Forral, makes a signature burger for a customer on Thursday in downtown Spokane. The Spokane City Council has delayed a vote on proposed food truck regulations. (Colin Mulvany)

Proposed regulations on mobile food trucks operating in Spokane were temporarily withdrawn from City Council consideration Monday night following organized opposition from owners concerned about fees and restrictions.

“We are all very glad to see that the city of Spokane is being proactive,” said Joile Forral, president of the newly formed Greater Spokane Food Truck Association. “However, we do not feel that the ordinances … are ready to be passed.”

The council agreed 5-2 to a one-month delay sought by Council President Ben Stuckart and Councilman Mike Allen. Both want to meet with all sides over the next month to try ironing out the concerns.

Among them are provisions enabling property owners to prohibit the food trucks and carts from operating in adjacent public rights of way such as city parking stalls or sidewalks, and a fee structure that charges an additional amount for each location mobile truck operators want to operate in. The regulations also would enable fixed-location restaurants to prohibit food trucks from setting up within 75 feet of their front door, though some council members indicated they’re unlikely to budge on that one.

Meanwhile, food trucks will continue to operate in a legal gray area.

State law requires that they comply with the same health and safety laws as restaurants, but none of the city’s business licenses adequately address the way the increasingly popular industry does business, leaving food truck operators potentially vulnerable if local authorities decided to crack down on them.

“This ordinance is, and always has been, about what we as a city can do to support the mobile food industry,” said Andrew Worlock, an associate city planner who has spent more than a year working on the regulations.

The vendors said that while they welcome the city’s effort to formally recognize their ability to operate, many feel they’re being held to different standards.

“If I’m legally parked in a city parking spot, paying the meter, why should the adjacent property owner be able to have a say over whether I can be there,” Forral asked during an interview last week as she took a break from her mobile operation, called the Couple of Chefs Catering & Street Cuisine Truck.

Her partner, Allen Skelton, asked whether the city will consider placing restrictions on where pizza delivery drivers can park, too.

“Pizza Hut rolls up, parks in front of a building and delivers pizza to tenants all the time and the building owner can’t tell them where they can or can’t park,” Skelton said. “Why should we be any different?”

The restrictions are similar to what cities such as Seattle and Portland have adopted and are designed to keep a level playing field, Worlock said.

“In most cases, the mobile vendor and the property owner already have a relationship because the health department requires them to have access to bathrooms and they’ve probably already made those kinds of arrangements,” he said. “But we want to see those conversations take place up front.”

Under the ordinance, mobile food vendor licenses would cost $40 a year, plus a one-time $10 fee for each approved location. Those operating in downtown Spokane would pay an additional $90 per year that would go to the Downtown Spokane Partnership for promotion and improvement services that all property owners and tenants are assessed. There are nearly 100 food trucks operating in the Spokane area currently but only a handful in the downtown area.

The proposed permit fees are less than what mobile food operators pay in Seattle, officials said, while the DSP assessment is less than the average $500 paid by downtown restaurants, or the city’s annual $250 fee paid by restaurants setting up tables outside on sidewalks.

Property managers and restaurateurs say they’re supportive of the growing food truck craze but want regulations in place that protect them and their investments from any uncooperative operators who might arrive at some point.

“They are a great asset for downtown,” Andrew Rolwes, public policy manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said last week. “Other cities have seen food trucks evolve into successful partnerships with neighboring businesses and we hope for their continued growth here.”

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