Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Legislative Matters Committee Hosts Public Hearing on Food Trucks
The Legislative Matters Committee, chaired by Ward 6 Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz, hosted business owners, residents and members of the press at a scheduled public hearing on Tuesday night discussing an ordinance regulating food trucks continued. Please note that the record is open and they are accepting written testimony until July 17th. Please see the Alderman Page for links to Board of Aldermen’s contact information.
Not opposed to food trucks coming into Somerville, current business owners from Union, Davis and Teele spoke of the importance of the geographical placement of the trucks, as well as, working with area business owners to bring in selections that complement existing choices. Conor Brennan, owner of PJ Ryan’s in Teele Square, mentioned the inclusion of an Asian-inspired food truck as their only restaurant serving this type of food was lost in a fire last fall.
Another business owner mentioned an ice cream truck as there is not storefront offering this choice where he is located. Ward 1 Alderman Bill Roche expressed his desire to protect all brick & mortar businesses as they are vested in the Community being property owners.
After speaking to some Magoun Square business owners, the common consensus is that they are supportive of food trucks, but would like careful consideration made into their placement and when they can operate. An “after surrounding establishments’ kitchens close” seems to be the most popular view.
I did speak at the public hearing, reiterating points that Conor Brennan and Ken Kelley pointed out regarding placement and having food options that compliment (I said, “accent”) current businesses selections.
The Chamber of Commerce, after being asked to conduct research on the topic, proposed a pilot program in Union Square. Members of the Board of Aldermen, most of which were in support of allowing food trucks, encouraged more locations (than just Union Square) and would like the licenses to be heavily regulated with strict oversight similar to Boston and Cambridge. Having proposed “spaces” around the city where food trucks could locate themselves (as opposed to just one square) seemed to be a popular idea as it would easily incorporate already-existing food trucks.
Currently, a food truck vendor can obtain a state license for just over $60 and set up shop in the city, granted, they have all proper sign-offs and obey traffic and parking laws. Under the new ordinance, the Board of Aldermen is seeking a $240 permit fee (Boston is $500), public hearings on license issuances, multiple department sign-offs, and a 7am-8pm timeframe. Ward 1 Alderman Bill Roche, who was very vocal in his opposition to food trucks, did not like the option of vendors being able to seek a “special” license allowing them to obtain 1am or 2am licenses.
Financially, the food truck is on, somewhat, of an honor system. They are obligated to pay all corresponding taxes for the city they occupy which is accepted by the state then delegated out to each municipality. It is up to the vendor to give the percentage amount (of their income) and the location where it was made.
Assistant City Solicitor, David Shapiro, was asked to do more research on the topic including reviewing Cambridge’s lengthy evaluation process for food trucks and seeing the legality of giving Somerville-based businesses and/or residents preference when issuing the license. Ward 4 Alderman Tony LaFuente also requested research on the legality of charging the trucks a real estate tax for their occupancy space.
Alderwoman Gewirtz said she would try to schedule a meeting soon, but would take people's vacation schedules into consideration. A September-October vote is speculated.