Somerville officials look to regulate food trucks
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 02:10
The City of Somerville is in the process of formulating a regulatory ordinance in response to the recent food truck phenomenon.
Discussions began approximately seven months ago, according to Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz. The procedure was initiated partially in response to safety and traffic concerns raised about currently operating food trucks, according to Doug Kress (MA ’15), a Bush Leadership Fellow who works with the Somerville government.
Gewirtz said that food trucks operating within Somerville are required to have a state license, but the Board of Aldermen has been trying to determine how to monitor food trucks at a local level since there are no consistent regulations in place.
Food trucks, including those on Tufts’ campus, would be required to abide by the safety components of the proposed ordinance, according to Kress. These regulations would ensure that the presence of food trucks does not impede visibility and traffic flow of cars, pedestrians and bicyclists and that food trucks are positioned a safe distance from intersections and curbs.
Local ordinances must also align with state regulations governing health and safety, he added.
“Because they’re mobile kitchens, [there are] implications within the fire department and also with the construction of it ... making sure all those things meet state health codes are critical,” Kress said.
Since the streets on the Tufts campus are privately owned, the university has control over whether or not food trucks are allowed, Kress said.
“The university itself could identify those internal streets [as] places they’d allow food trucks,” he said. “They’re allowed on private property as long as they’re on a hard surface.”
An initial draft of the ordinance was presented in June but was not approved by the Board of Aldermen at the time, Gewirtz said. Discussions since then have focused on addressing various questions and concerns, she added.
Gewirtz said that there has been conversation over whether to require Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) background checks for vendors, especially those catering to children.
A pilot program was proposed as a way to explore and evaluate the proposed ordinance, according to Gewirtz. However, Kress explained that there were concerns over how the pilot would affect existing food trucks and whether it would extend to only a certain geographic area or cover all of Somerville for a specified period.
“The full Board of Aldermen decided they wanted to make some amendments to [the ordinance], so it came back to the city, and they’re working as a whole so that every member can participate in deliberating and voting,” Gewirtz told the Daily.
A meeting of the Legislative Matters Committee was slated for Oct. 1 for further discussion, but it did not reach a quorum of aldermen and was postponed until Oct. 23.
Given that food trucks are a relatively recent trend, Somerville has had to adapt to the new considerations posed by these street vendors, according to President and CEO of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce Stephen Mackey.
“Every city has to really renovate their ordinances in this area, really go back and redo things pretty much from scratch,” Mackey told the Daily. “The way new regulations are approached, [this] has to be about public convenience, public order, public health and public safety — not about competition.”
But according to Mackey, the regulations should not serve to hamper competition.
“New regulations are needed here, but new regulations cannot have an anti-competitive undercut,” he said. “You can’t regulate it on that basis. It’s a competitive world, it’s a competitive marketplace.”
Gewirtz noted that there is robust interest in and support of food trucks within the business world.
“There are a lot of local businesses that are 100 percent for it,” she said. “Food trucks bring people and that helps local businesses.”
Kress referenced the Riverfest in Assembly Square last month, which featured food trucks such as Paris Creperie and the Taco Truck.
“The biggest crowd[s] were around the food trucks,” he said. “It does show that there is a group that really [is] interested in having access to a variety of foods.”