Hopefully, it is permanent. As the Chair of the Health & Human Services Committee, Randi Shade pointed out, \”This is a rogue verses non-rogue trailer problem\”. Amen sister! The problem that continues to be pointed out by Mr. Ramsey\’s fleet of lawyers originate with people who are currently NOT operating within the system. New laws will not change that. As was also noted by the City Council, there is not a health emergency here, as only 5 food borne illness cases have been reported against trailer proprietors since 2006. I can say without hesitation, that from the Holy Cacao bunch we welcome more health inspections. We pass with flying colors every time. Further, as lovers of dining out at BOTH trailers and traditional restaurants, we encourage more inspectors and inspections of all types of restaurants (after all 699 cases were reported last year in traditional restaurants).
Bob Gentry of Torchy\’s Tacos spoke eloquently on behalf of the Mobile Food Vendors noting that as an owner of both a trailer and traditional restaurant, he can attest that the standard of health inspection is equally stringent at both types. The same standard of cleanliness is demanded by the City of Austin\’s Health Department. So, again, what\’s the problem you ask? Consider the following subjects to be debated in the coming weeks and months by the Mobile Food Vending Task Force:
1. All Trailers must be parked on a paved surface.
This one makes no sense from several viewpoints. First of all, as the lot owner, renting space to trailers allows a source of income that can help the property owner pay property taxes. As we\’ve seen in recent years it can be a struggle. Where many city and state governments are financially struggling, it\’s foolish to handicap municipal income. Secondly, from a \”green\” perspective, to cover an \”interim use\” lot with tar and chemicals is a direction that I hope Austin does not choose to move towards. There is certainly no precedent for this recommendation made by Chris Johnston at the DAC (Development Assistance Center). In just the couple of days since he\’s made this most recent (and extraordinarily expensive proposal), I\’ve noticed gravel lots at The Broken Spoke, Green Pastures, The Cedar Door, Black Sheep Lodge, the Volvo Dealership, schools…I can continue. Finally, if I\’m a developer looking to purchase a lot for development, one covered with asphalt or concrete and brick and mortar built restroom facilities (the next topic), I\’ll think twice about buying your lot. If I have to tear out and haul off the debris, I\’ll opt for a lot that has been sitting vacant.
2. If you have a table and chair you must have a brick and mortar, men\’s and women\’s, ADA compliant restroom facilities with hand washing sinks.
This was actually a recommendation by the Zoning Department. They do know that we are MOBILE food vendors, right? I mean clearly the ones that you all know tend to sit in the same spot, but as I\’ve just mentioned our landlord, at any given point, could sell the lot and we will have to move. And, per this idea, build another restroom facility at the tune of $30,000. For all that building and spending, why not just open a restaurant? Now, of course we want a spot for both our customers and employees to use the restroom. We have suggested ADA compliant port-o-potties with hand sanitizer for guests (our employees can access our dedicated hand washing sink with hot water, anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer on board). And yes, we all carry Food Handler Safety Cards or Food Manager cards and know to wash our hands for 20+ seconds using the above materials. Again, as noted from the lack of health problems, this is not about health and safety, it\’s about local business owners having undue influence on the local government and attempting to use them to \”police the competition\”. Fortunately, the City Council, at least at this stage, seems to be seeing right through it. I would also add that there is no connection between a table and chair and the need for a restroom.
3. No Mobile Food Vendors at Gas Stations.
For many gas station and convenience store owners this has been a vital source of additional revenue during a sluggish economy. No thought was given to this proposal whatsoever. There appears to be an automatic deduction that every food vendor has propane on board. Holy Cacao for one does not. I don\’t believe that Hey Cupcake, or Cutie Pies or any of the numerous snow cone and shaved ice trailers do either. How exactly does their presence at a gas station cause a health or safety concern? This is the direct result of having too many government agencies trying to direct an industry that they know nothing about. Bob Gentry noted in his case to the Council, that Portland, Oregon\’s City Council simply said, \”we\’re not in the food business…tell us how it works and how it can be done safely\”. What followed was a 39 page proposal from local business owners that has become a model for mobile food vending used around the country.
Per the Health & Human Services Subcommittee, only one city in the state of Texas requires the Fire Department to get involved in the inspection of Mobile Food units (Houston). There may be some value in this, particularly if there is propane on board. However, since our discussions with the Health Department began some months ago, we\’ve grown to 8 departments involved (Zoning, Water and Watershed, Development Assistance Center, Austin Energy, the Fire Department, City Electric Department, Code Enforcement and of course, the Health Department). The question that must be decided in the coming weeks and months is, \”what benefit is this to the public as well as the small business owners themselves?\”