After months of debate and redrafting, New Orleans City Council passed a revised food truck ordinance that would increase the availability of permits and allow more trucks in New Orleans.
Following a months-long drive led by council president Stacy Head, council voted 6-1 to approve the drafted-in-progress ordinance. (District D council member Cynthia Hedge-Morrell was the sole nay vote.)
Council members argued over several last-minute amendments to the proposed ordinance, including two concerning bathrooms.
"This has been the concern not just of (the Louisiana Restaurant Association). This came from my public health people - not from the city, but from my access to a whole arena of public health people," said Clarkson, adding that she has received public health guidance from “people who have been engaged in public health my whole life."
Alex del Castillo, who runs Taceaux Loceaux, said he has "managed not to soil myself" in the time he has spent prepping and serving from his truck. "Why is it suddenly important now?" he asked. "What are you fixing? Has there been a spate of illnesses from truck owners?"
Head also noted that a letter, requested by Clarkson, from the state Department of Health and Hospitals said the department will continue “aggressive” enforcement of health codes, and it made no mention of a bathroom requirement.
Rachel Billow, president of the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition and owner of La Cocinita food truck, said there "haven’t been any issues thus far with there not being a restroom requirement," noting that the current law as written has no requirement.
"Because this is a pilot program we can use this time to learn," she said. "If we have restrictions in place we’re not going to learn whether they’re doing to be a problem. ... The best solution would be to wait until it becomes a problem."
The council adopted the amendment for trucks to operate within 300 feet of an available restroom, though Head admitted it was to accommodate unfounded complaints in her "earnest attempts to accommodate" them, "particularly from the LRA."
"Even though frankly I think it is silly," she said. "Nevertheless I have tried to accommodate these concerns. I wasn’t aware it a was an issue until yesterday."
A second amendment related to bathrooms also passed, though with several amendments made to it:
Clarkson proposed that food truck vendors have written permission from a business within 300 feet from where a food truck operates, though council members agreed that a truck can be exempt if it can "demonstrate" there is no bathroom (e.g. in an under-served neighborhood). Clarkson introduced an amendment requiring trucks to carry keys to businesses with bathrooms, but she scrapped it.
Other approved amendments include a rule prohibiting trucks from operating in front of a "residential structure" (as opposed to an entire residential zoned neighborhood, which would have excluded trucks from operating in front of neighborhood bars that regularly invite trucks). Trucks also must display their permit number.
The proximity requirement to prevent trucks from operating within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant also passed, unless trucks have a written waiver from the restaurant. New permits for trucks will be capped at 75.
The new ordinance will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.