It appears that Canadian city councils are having the same issues with food trucks as their American counterparts, unfortunately those that argue against them use the same false logic.

LONDON, ONTARIO – A dozen food trucks could be up and running “quickly” in London but city councillors will have to get off the brakes first.

After about two hours of debate the five-member Community and Protective Services Committee voted Monday (April 28) to refer a staff report nearly a year in the making back for further debate at a special meeting before full council convenes next Tuesday (May 6).

At the meeting the committee will consider three revisions to the bylaw that would limit to 12 the number of food truck licences issued in 2014, would see those licences distributed through a lottery (not an auction as was suggested by Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser) and would require the program be reviewed in the fall so changes can be made for 2015.

The debate bounced between councillors such as Bill Armstrong, Harold Usher, Denise Brown and Orser who are concerned about putting existing restaurants in the downtown core at risk by flooding the market with unfair competition, and those such as Matt Brown and Nancy Branscombe who cringe at the prospect of losing another food selling season mired in micromanagement, like approving individual menus.

Branscombe could see the green in the grass on both sides of the fence: she said when she travels abroad she “always” eats street food and is eager to see a similar experience in London. But the Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate for London North Centre has no appetite for rushing into an approval and putting pressure on existing businesses.

“I would be feeling very bad in a year if businesses closed because of this.”

Both city bylaw enforcement manager Orest Katolyk and a city solicitor advised the committee that enforcing a menu standard enshrined in a bylaw would be troublesome at best.

Armstrong was more blunt, arguing the politicians have no business telling consumers what they want to eat.

“I find it hard for us to sit here and say let’s decide the menu,” he said. “Who are we?”

Whether councillors decide to wade into menu vetting or not, where they will be allowed to set up shop and how much they will pay the city for the right to do so is up to them.

More than 220 parking spots around the downtown core were recommended for food trucks with rules forbidding them from parking within 100 metres of schools or festivals (as in Victoria Park) or 25 metres from existing restaurants or residential buildings.

That number gave Denise Brown pause; she’s concerned after removing parking spots last summer for outdoor patios, there will be another reason to avoid the downtown if even fewer spots are available.

John Stobie, owner of two Stobie’s Pizza locations downtown, said he welcomes competition as long as there’s a level playing field. After some coaxing he revealed he pays more than $100,000 on the leases for his two locations – a lot more than the $1,225 licence fee a food truck owner would pay.

“I’d love that $1,200 fee.”

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