The Puyallup City Council weighed the impacts of implementing a Food Truck Pilot Program at the Dec. 5 Council meeting.
The proposal, put forth by the Washington State Food Truck Association, would modify some of the city’s regulations related to mobile food truck vendors.
Currently, food trucks are allowed to locate on private property through the city’s permitting process. The proposed pilot program would reduce or eliminate some of the geographical restrictions on the mobile vendors, including where they can park.
“The pilot program would allow these trucks to locate on public street parking,” city planner Katie Baker said at the Council meeting.
Under existing city regulations, food trucks must be located outside driveway and required parking areas and cannot locate within 400 feet of a public or private school, or within 300 feet of a restaurant that is open for business. They also cannot locate within any one block for more than one hour in a four-hour period.
The current regulations are stifling the ability of food trucks to come to Puyallup, and adding a pilot program would be a benefit to Puyallup, said Lori Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Food Truck Association.
“(Food trucks) really energize the downtown area and it gets people outside of buildings and their houses and communicating with their neighbors,” Johnson said. “Food trucks don’t just provide food. I think they’re a great way to really bring people together.”
In addition to changing geographical restrictions, the proposed Food Truck Pilot Program would eliminate background checks, allow vendors to exceed time limits during operations and reduce penalties for violations. The temporary one-year program suggests Tuesday, Fridays and Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. with downtown areas such as Pioneer Park and the Sounder Station as possible areas of operation.
The pilot program was first proposed to the Council earlier this year, with an overview of current regulations in August. Council members were split on how to proceed with the program. They were also split on the issue at the Dec. 5 Council meeting, but were open to changes to the program.
One of the biggest concerns was the impact to brick-and-mortar restaurants downtown. After discussions with the Puyallup Main Street Association, Baker found that there were some concerns from local restaurant owners.
“What I heard from the Main Street Association was that there are some concerns with mobile food trucks, particularly that brick-and-mortar establishments have to deal with a lot of overhead costs and they’re obviously concerned with some competition there,” Baker relayed to the Council.
Some Council members echoed the concern.
“My concern is basically what Main Street had said, with the brick-and-mortars downtown and we have a lot of small restaurants, small individual owners down here, and making sure they’re economically viable,” Council member Julie Door said.
Other Council members drew concerns over defining fair competition.
“I think that when there is direct competition that people raise the game and it makes everybody a lot better and sharper, and I don’t think that that is something that we should be regulating — is making sure that nobody has competition,” Council member Robin Farris said.
Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shelly Schlumpf spoke with some local restaurant owners about the program, and said that there were some concerns about costs of operations for brick and mortar restaurants, but that food trucks and restaurants are very different.
“We know that food trucks are good for downtown events like our Farmer’s Market, Meeker Days, etc. so we want to support programs that continue to allow this service at events,” Schlumpf said in an email. “I’ve spoken with some of our restaurant owners and they are pretty much of the same opinion. And food truck policies, in some cases, can provide our restaurants with alternate opportunities for food services.”
Edgewood resident Trent Jurgensen opened his own food truck, The Frying Dutchman, in 2015, which services the Edgewood, Milton, Puyallup and Sumner areas. Jurgensen thinks the pilot program is a good idea and would consider downtown areas as points of service.
“I think having a spot where you can park a food truck, that provides a better environment ... I think the people have the right to choose where they want to eat,” he said.
Council members also discussed whether food trucks cater to different customer needs.
“We forget that not every young family can sit in a restaurant and have a nice meal because the children are active and they’re going and so a little food truck every once in awhile is good,” Council member Dean Johnson said.
Some changes to locations of the program were suggested, such as Bradley Lake Park and Pierce College Puyallup on South Hill, or the Puyallup Recreation Center at various sporting events.
“The data that we’re trying to collect is, is it bringing people downtown that aren’t otherwise downtown?” Council member Tom Swanson said.
The city will be returning with more information and possible changes to the Food Truck Pilot Program next year, where City Council will decide whether to adopt the program or not. Community members are welcome to come share their thoughts.
“I think there’s been a recent change in the city so we are hopeful that some of the new City Council members will look at our proposal and see how sensible it is and help get us approved,” Johnson said.