As we reported earlier today, news out of Boston was good for the food truck industry. Unfortunately we learned from the yakima-herald.com’s Phil Ferolito the small Washington city of Zillah (population of 2,198 in 2000) has gone in the completely opposite direction from Boston, and banned mobile food vendors, or as one city official called them, “taco wagons”.
ZILLAH — Zillah has become the only Lower Valley town to ban taco wagons.
Saying that the mobile purveyors of street food have an unfair advantage over businesses that pay property taxes, the City Council on Monday unanimously approved banning them from this city of about 2,770 residents.
The city’s ordinance also arose out of concerns over potential traffic problems posed by the vendors, as well as potential health issues, officials said.
A temporary moratorium on taco wagons and other mobile vendors was enacted last summer after Mayor Gary Clark brought the issue before the City Council.
“My request came from looking around at other communities and seeing them pop up. I thought maybe it’s something we need to get ahead of,” Clark said.
“Personally, I don’t really care for the mobile vendors. They come in, set up shop and don’t pay any taxes. They’re here today and gone tomorrow.”
Councilman Kevin Russell agrees. “The main thing is we want to protect public safety, make sure all businesses are on the same playing field,” he said.
Clark said the move had nothing to do with recent growth in the city’s Latino population. “Demographics had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Ice cream vendors such as “the paleta man” selling frozen treats and home delivery operations are exempt, according to the three-page ordinance.
“What they were thinking about wasn’t the little guys that go around the neighborhoods (selling ice cream),” City Attorney Jamie Carmody said. “What they were thinking about was the full-blown taco wagons.”
Clark said even though taco wagons are required to have a food-handling permit from the Yakima Health District, he’s still concerned about on-site food preparation.
“The health department is short-staffed and can’t always be there to regulate them,” he said.
Violations of the ordinance carry a civil penalty of up to a $500 fine for each offense.
It is sad to see uninformed city councils take stands like this, especially in the status of today’s economy. People all around the country are looking for employment, and others are looking for inexpensive meals to feed themselves and their families. In one stroke, this city has only added to the problem.
Instead of sitting down with these vendors and working out a means to protect the safety of its citizens by implementing a food safety program that these vendors would be required to follow to remain open, they shrug their shoulders and turn their backs unable to keep up on this nationally growing industry. They could read the news from Los Angeles about their new grading system which matches the system used by their brick and mortar establishments. They could legislate that these taco wagons must submit for annual health department inspections as many other communities require their mobile vendors to adhere to.
For the council members concerned about taxes, this could be corrected by constructing a permitting system that would require these vendors to pay for permits and licenses to operate, as well as to pay additional fees and fines if their areas are not kept clean. Nothing will get a vendor more interested in having their packaging properly thrown away, than a fine for $250. Instead, they go the easy route and create a fine for operating within the city.
Unfortunately we know this won’t be the last city to ban mobile food vendors, but hopefully in the future cities will look around the country to find examples of cities where the food truck industry is flourishing. If cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Boston can create a system that works, why can’t these small towns?