DC: Restaurants & Food Trucks Duel Over Location

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, whose finance committee is handling the sales tax bill.

By Freeman Klopott | WashingtonExaminer.com

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, whose finance committee is handling the sales tax bill.

CIty restaurant owners and the District’s food truck vendors remained deadlocked on how to resolve the dispute over where the trucks can operate, despite an offer Wednesday by the vendors to be taxed at the same rate as brick-and-mortar businesses.

“The real issue is location, location, location,” Andrew Kline, the attorney for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, told The Washington Examiner. “Ideally what happens is the city specifies locations where [the trucks] can operate.”

Until a Wednesday morning council hearing, the two sides had been warring over a bill that would apply the city’s 10 percent restaurant tax to the trucks. The restaurants say the trucks undercut their business with cheaper, untaxed food. The vendors had argued their clientele are unreliable – a cold day can kill business – and they need the cheap food advantage. The city currently requires the trucks to pay a $1,500 annual fee to sling their delicacies from the curbside in lieu of the tax.

“We believe your proposal to have all city vendors collecting sales tax from customers has merit as a fair and equitable means by which to increase revenue for the city,” Kristi Whitfield, director of the D.C. Food Truck Association told the council Wednesday. The support comes with a caveat, though.

“If you’re going to tax street vendors like storefront businesses, then treat vendors like businesses consistently in the regulations,” she said.

Food trucks operate under city laws created primarily for ice cream trucks, which can only stop if they’re hailed and then must leave when the line dissolves. Whitfield says a change in the taxes should come with a regulation change that allows food trucks to stay parked “regardless of whether or not there is a line.”

Kline said that is something restaurants are willing to consider, and told the council he’d like to see the ice cream truck regulation changed for the food trucks, too.

“Under the fiction that these trucks are somehow akin to Mr. Softee trucks, peddling ice cream to toddlers at different stops a few minutes at a time,” he said. “Food vending trucks are allowed to operate almost anywhere, without regard to their impact on the use of public space.”

Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, whose finance committee is handling the sales tax bill, said he’s asked the two sides to meet and develop a proposal dealing with their concerns.

“I want this done within weeks, not months,” Evans told The Examiner.