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Aldermen Balk at Prospect of Food Trucks in Somerville

It's back to the drawing board for a food truck ordinance after some on the Somerville Board of Aldermen expressed skepticism or open hostility toward the measure on Thursday.

A in Somerville was received with skepticism when it came before the entire Board of Aldermen Thursday night.

Leading the charge against the measure was Ward 1 Alderman William Roche.

"Food trucks throughout the city of Somerville is not an image that I think promotes what we want the city of Somerville to be. I don't think they do any public good," the alderman said.

Roche suggested food trucks might be acceptable at "special events only. Forth of July fireworks. Parades. Youth sports."

Others on the Board of Aldermen were more on the fence about the matter.

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said, "What I was looking for … was more designation of areas" where food trucks would be permitted. She expressed concern about bricks-and-mortar businesses, many of whom "shelled out tens of thousand's of dollars for a liquor license and [are] paying so much in taxes every year." (Somerville Patch is not aware of any food truck that would sell liquor.)

On the other hand, she said, "I'm not totally against this. In fact, I think food trucks might be a great addition to serve certain portions of the city."

Ward 5 Alderman Sean O'Donovan asked, in regard to Ball, Magoun and Porter squares, which he represents in part, "Do I want a food truck pulling into one of those squares where I have established eateries?"

Roche and other aldermen expressed concern about who would be operating the food trucks and asked for more stringent CORI—Criminal Offender Record Information—background checks on operators.

Bruce Desmond, an alderman at large, agreed that more stringent background checks should be built into the ordinance, but said, "I do think food trucks have an added value in this city."

After four months, back to the drawing board

The proposed ordinance came before the entire Board of Aldermen Thursday after spending over four months in the Legislative Matters Committee getting drafted.

Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, chair of that committee, came to the ordinance's defense Thursday.

She said that if the ordinance isn't passed, food trucks would be allowed in Somerville with few limits. As matters currently stand, food trucks are licensed by the state, and since Somerville doesn't regulate them, they can operate as they please, she explained.

She also noted the ordinance gives full power to the Board of Aldermen to approve each individual food truck. Some on the board thought such power could open the city up to lawsuits for discrimination should a food truck operator challenge a denial of license.

Gewirtz said of food trucks, "They are small businesses, they are innovators, the come into a community and bring something maybe that community does not have."

By the end of the debate, Board of Aldermen President Thomas Taylor decided to send the matter back to committee, asking Gewirtz to chair a Committee of the Whole meeting so the whole Board of Aldermen can discuss the measure further.

Gewirtz said she would do it, but said, "I feel a sense of reticence, because if the goal is to make it so onerous for food trucks that they wouldn't bother applying or that it would be so difficult for them to proceed … I feel uncomfortable doing that. Many of these food trucks are small, startup businesses."

More on the Somerville food truck ordinance

kevin thomas crowley June 15, 2012 at 01:20 PM
you gotta love a good food truck. stop-by "dr. moes" at trum field. the food is basic, tasty and inexpensive. it's also a good place to meet some interesting characters.
cp kostos June 15, 2012 at 03:19 PM
I'm totally against all food trucks unless they are part of an event in a public area. As a commercial property owner with a number of restaurants that provide a living and jobs for the local community, I vehemently oppose this concept. We have all types of food establishments in the city that pay their fair share of taxes, license fees, and water and sewer charges. Believe me, it's tough enough to make a living with the existing food establishments as fair competition so please, please, don't complicate this situation with food trucks. Most have no running water, fire suppression systems, which, by the way, need to be constantly inspected and replaced and monitored. Who will monitor the walk away trash that customers will toss on the streets a couple of hundred feet away? Who will be checking the cleanliness of the trucks and employees hands,no hand sinks? All this will be adding more people to the city payroll. And they will, after all this experimenting is over, put rent paying, tax paying businesses out of business. Think of the winter months when everyone of the legitimate business already struggle for patrons. I'm just saying!!!
joan June 15, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Assuming food trucks comply with the same basic health requirements applicable to all food purveyors, why not allow them to operate at a designated site that is not close to existing brick and mortar eating establishments but accessible to drive-by customers and on-foot customers? Assembly Square would be a good place--maybe in the lot next to the shut down theaters? Cambridge has the food trucks lined up along one block of Main Streets near Kendall Sq. and they seem to be doing a great business without snarling traffic. There's a hotdog vendor who parks near the Home Depot around lunchtime, and he seems to do a fantastic business with customers from Home Depot and the health office building nearby as well as hard-hat workers who come from elsewhere just for the hot dogs! Food trucks would be another option for lunchtime and an exclusive around dinnertime.
Ron Newman June 15, 2012 at 06:59 PM
If they are following established food safety and health rules, let them set up anywhere and any time they want. They will be a welcome addition to the city's food culture. They will need to pay for their parking spaces, but I see no other reason for the city to restrict their activities.
Benjamin Mako Hill June 16, 2012 at 05:37 AM
As someone who doesn't own a series of restaurants, I welcome more competition for my business and options for my meals. Running a competitive restaurant can be tough. But getting a variety of decently priced and decent tasting meals is too. Food trucks near MIT/Kendall in Cambridge have improved the lunch options in the area enormously. I visited Austin and was in awe of the innovation that can happen in a vibrant and incredible food truck scene. Entrepreneurs are willing to try out things like Korean kimchi tacos when the option of food trucks reduce the risk to the point where it's worth trying. And they are incredible! Food trucks are also small local businesses that add options and variety and support our economy and provide local options and flavors.They pay their taxes and also have to live by the rules. If we think they are going to be unsafe or problematic, we can change the rules so these issues are addressed. Indeed, that was the entire point of the hearing. I was sad to see our representatives refuse to even engage in the conversation. Bravo to applaud Alderman Gerwirtz for stepping up for her constituents!
Alex June 20, 2012 at 09:00 PM
This is what holds the Boston area back and makes Somerville especially frustrating. Food trucks exist all over the country. People love them. They serve great food, with very little downside. They make urban areas more vibrant. But do elected officials acknowledge any of these facts? No. They treat food rucks as a brand new idea that no one has ever tried before, and which could be so dangerous and scary they should be banned. I love Boston and I live here, but part of me is looking forward to the day when our economy pays the price for fighting every lifestyle amenity that young entrepreneurs want, while Austin and San Francisco welcome them with open arms and thank us for our pettiness and small-mindedness. Wake up!
Melissa G June 21, 2012 at 07:24 PM
cp kostos, many of your complaints against food trucks are simply untrue. They do pay taxes, and licsensing fees. And they have to abide by the same health and safety rules as the restaurants that opperate on you properties. I'd urge you to ask the restaurants around Dewey Square, and the rest of the Greenway, if their business has suffered due to the food trucks that part in the square everyday? Because as a patron I will tell you that they are all just as busy as they have always been. Do you get upset when a new restaurant opens? Particularly one that opens in a store front that wasn't formally a restaurant? For instance, when Foundry opened? It used to be a retail store and now it's a restaurant which has created new competition for the longer established restaurants in that neighborhood. We live in a society where people want choices. From a consumer standpoint, what food trucks offer isn't in direct competition with what brick & mortar restaurants offer. Simply put. I won't choose a food truck over a brick & mortar restaurant. Particularly when you consider food trucks are a form of fast food or on-the-go food. The city of Somerville (and the cities of Boston, Cambridge, & Brookline) are actually severely lacking in that market anyhow. And one last point to consider. These are local entrepeneuers trying to make a living and providing jobs and revenue to the city. The same as you.
Frank Mulligan June 24, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Haymarket Down Town Boston they have a LICENSE posted so can can see it. Somerville should do the SAME. No license you can"t sell food. The board of health should BANNE smoking around FOOD. Haymarket they smoke around the food. They DON'T care. Good Luck Somerville.
Jonah Petri June 24, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I don't see why this should be regulated by Somerville. Let the food trucks set up where they want, when they want. The arguments against them made by the aldermen quoted above are weak. Good for the Patch for calling them out.

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