There’s no fairness in a single ruling party, no matter what your party.
“We wrote this law for the primary purpose of preventing lawsuits or being sued…It is not the City’s job to promote a healthy business climate.”
-Columbus City Councilmember Michelle Mills regarding her proposed food truck legislation
Two years ago, the Central Ohio Restaurant Association and the Central Ohio Food Truck Association believed changes to the current food truck code were necessary to support our industry and to support a vibrant downtown.
We saw relations between brick and mortar and food truck businesses deteriorate in other cities and being from the same industry, we worked to avoid that. We saw this as an opportunity to be a shining example of bricks and mortars, food trucks, and the city working together to create innovative and smart public policy that benefits all of Central Ohio.
For the next two years, CORA/COFTA met together regularly drafting recommendations and ideas that supported each other’s industries, promoted a safer and more vibrant Columbus, and contributed to the economic vitality of Columbus.
Our mission wasn’t focused solely on avoiding lawsuits, it was to contribute more fully to a more vibrant, prosperous, smart, and open Columbus, something I’d thought Columbus City Council also cared about.
We met with each member of Columbus City Council briefing them on our ongoing meetings and asking for a seat at the table as stakeholders and partners whenever legislation related to our industry was going to be drafted or proposed. Each Councilmember assured us that we would be. We continued to meet and send Councilmembers our recommendations.
In June 2013, despite our continued requests to be at the table for any proposals, CORA and COFTA first learned of Councilmember Mills food truck pilot program when we read about it in the Columbus Dispatch. Not one member of Council or Councilmember Mills thought to reach out to the very industry they wished to regulate. None of our recommendations acquired via endless stakeholder meetings with neighborhood, civic, and business associations were included in the pilot program that was unanimously approved by Columbus City Council with minimal comments.
The members of council acknowledged first learning of the pilot in the newspaper as well. Mills maintains she’d kept CORA/COFTA informed, no one in CORA of COFTA is aware of her ‘outreach.’
The pilot allowed for 30 food trucks in the public right of way. We requested that the City not add yet another sign to confuse metered parking on the street and instead mark each meter that could be used for food trucks with a sticker or some other signal to the food trucks and meter attendants. Days later, against repeated neighborhood requests and assurances that signs would not go up, signs went up, confusing visitors for the past year.
Very few food trucks signed up for the pilot (5 total) so nearly 30 valuable parking spaces went unused and visitors left the spaces alone assuming they’d be towed for parking in the designated and very well marked food truck parking spaces. The pilot was a failure and CORA and COFTA and our most popular downtown neighborhoods were understandably pissed off.
Neighborhood/businesses associations watched as the valuable designated meter spots remain empty in heavily congested areas due to the confusing signs placed by the City indicating the spaces were ‘food truck’ spaces from 6am-3am.
Last night Mills held a hearing for round two of her pilot. She was dismissive towards the very real concerns expressed by taxpayers and members of the second largest private sector employer and largest employer of women and minorities in management positions in the state.
At the end of the ‘hearing,’ Mills threatened the food truck community by offering to end discussion now, keep current code intact, and/or further stall discussion. The old adage about most electeds never having to worry about making a payroll or keep the electric on at their own places of business was obvious last night.
Council chambers were filled with my closest industry peers and neighborhood and civic groups all opposing the proposed legislation as written.
Rick Harrison Wolfe of the North Market was one of the few folks in favor of the proposal, which was odd given that all adjacent neighborhood groups (Short North Alliance and Downtown SID plus the food truck community) were opposed. Other than him, the only other persons in support of the proposal was a citizen of Columbus who said he was there because he loves food trucks and an obviously (and sadly) uninformed member of the Clintonville Area Commission.
Opposing Mills proposal as written: the Central Ohio Restaurant Association and Central Ohio Food Truck Association. The Short North Alliance, the Downtown SID, the Discovery District SID , downtown property owners, multiple small businesses, industry leaders, and others expressed concerns with the plan as written too.
It’s important to note that Mills publicly pitted CORA and COFTA against one another in comments she’s made to press. In fact, both organizations remain allies and peers who issued joint recommendations to her all along and joined forces long before her proposal a year ago. I made sure to note this on record last night during my comments. Divide and conquer won’t work in my industry.
I expect a vote this Monday or next Monday. During my testimony, I asked Mills when she planned to put this to vote and she began giving me the timeline of our work to date but no answer to my question. Changing the City code should be done carefully, thoughtfully, and should engage as many invested stakeholders as possible. When Council chambers are full of stakeholders opposed to your plan, it’s time to go back and rewrite your proposal.
More from Dan Eaton, longtime restaurant reporter at Biz First: http://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/blog/2014/02/food-truck-operators-pepper-columbus.html