By VANESSA HO | SEATTLEPI.COM
Seattle’s effort to develop a lively street food scene drew a slew of critics Wednesday, mostly from restaurant owners worried about competition from more trucks and carts selling more kinds of food.
Critics showed up at a City Council hearing on proposed legislation to facilitate more mobile food sites. The proposal would let:
- Food trucks sell in public curb spaces, as opposed to only on private property
- Vendors sell on public property without permission from a neighboring property owner
- Food trucks and carts sell 50 feet from another food-service business and 200 feet from a school
- The Seattle-King County Public Health Department expand the range of food sold beyond the current offerings: Hot dogs, coffee, popcorn and flowers
City officials have long embraced the idea of a bustling street food scene – similar to that of Portland and New York City – as a way of creating vibrant neighborhoods and helping entrepreneurs.
But most of the people who showed up at Wednesday’s hearing, by the Council’s Committee on the Built Environment, voiced concern.
Business owners worried about giant trucks blocking their storefronts. A manager for the union that represents Seattle Public Schools cafeteria workers worried about increased traffic and litter.
(The same union cited similar issues – plus concerns about jobs and healthy eating – in 2005, when it lobbied to move street food vendors further away from schools. The City Council increased the required distance from 200 feet to the current 1,000 feet that year, to create “pizza-free zones.”)
Restaurant owners fretted that the legislation would create an “unlevel playing field.” Mobile vendors would be able to sell nearby with cheaper expenses than that of brick-and-mortar establishments, they said.
A typical annual permit for a new daytime food cart would cost $912. An owner of a new food truck would pay $1,365 a year.
“I don’t think most of the restaurant owners are even aware of the possibility that there’s going to be a mobile food truck that’s serving something similar to their menu 50 feet away, that is essentially not even paying rent,” said Freddy Rivas, who owns a taco stand in Wallingford.
“That’s completely unacceptable.”
A few people embraced the legislation. Don Blakeney, who helped organize the crowd-drawing “Seattle Square Market” events in Pioneer Square last summer, said the five food trucks that participated were crucial.
“Street food was a key component to activating Occidental Park,” Blakeney said. “I saw it as a huge benefit to the community.”
Diane Skwierczs, the owner of Street Treats, a food truck that sells desserts, said more street food would bring the city in line with other major metropolises around the world.
“It’s a thing that Seattle is missing,” she said.
The legislation is tentatively scheduled for a full Council vote on June 27.