Boston, MA: Aldermen Balk at Prospect of Food Trucks in Somerville

Food trucks line up at the SOWA Open Market. Credit Chris Masci

By Chris Orchard | PATCH

Food trucks line up at the SOWA Open Market. Credit Chris Masci

It’s back to the drawing board for a food truck ordinance after some on the Somerville Board of Aldermen expressed skepticism or open hostility toward the measure on Thursday.

A proposed ordinance that would regulate food trucks in Somerville was received with skepticism when it came before the entire Board of Aldermen Thursday night.

Leading the charge against the measure was Ward 1 Alderman William Roche.

“Food trucks throughout the city of Somerville is not an image that I think promotes what we want the city of Somerville to be. I don’t think they do any public good,” the alderman said.

Roche suggested food trucks might be acceptable at “special events only. Forth of July fireworks. Parades. Youth sports.”

Others on the Board of Aldermen were more on the fence about the matter.

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said, “What I was looking for … was more designation of areas” where food trucks would be permitted. She expressed concern about bricks-and-mortar businesses, many of whom “shelled out tens of thousand’s of dollars for a liquor license and [are] paying so much in taxes every year.” (Somerville Patch is not aware of any food truck that would sell liquor.)

On the other hand, she said, “I’m not totally against this. In fact, I think food trucks might be a great addition to serve certain portions of the city.”

Ward 5 Alderman Sean O’Donovan asked, in regard to Ball, Magoun and Porter squares, which he represents in part, “Do I want a food truck pulling into one of those squares where I have established eateries?”

Roche and other aldermen expressed concern about who would be operating the food trucks and asked for more stringent CORI—Criminal Offender Record Information—background checks on operators.

Bruce Desmond, an alderman at large, agreed that more stringent background checks should be built into the ordinance, but said, “I do think food trucks have an added value in this city.”

After four months, back to the drawing board

The proposed ordinance came before the entire Board of Aldermen Thursday after spending over four months in the Legislative Matters Committee getting drafted.

Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, chair of that committee, came to the ordinance’s defense Thursday.

She said that if the ordinance isn’t passed, food trucks would be allowed in Somerville with few limits. As matters currently stand, food trucks are licensed by the state, and since Somerville doesn’t regulate them, they can operate as they please, she explained.

She also noted the ordinance gives full power to the Board of Aldermen to approve each individual food truck. Some on the board thought such power could open the city up to lawsuits for discrimination should a food truck operator challenge a denial of license.

Gewirtz said of food trucks, “They are small businesses, they are innovators, the come into a community and bring something maybe that community does not have.”

By the end of the debate, Board of Aldermen President Thomas Taylor decided to send the matter back to committee, asking Gewirtz to chair a Committee of the Whole meeting so the whole Board of Aldermen can discuss the measure further.

Gewirtz said she would do it, but said, “I feel a sense of reticence, because if the goal is to make it so onerous for food trucks that they wouldn’t bother applying or that it would be so difficult for them to proceed … I feel uncomfortable doing that. Many of these food trucks are small, startup businesses.”

More on the Somerville food truck ordinance

Somerville Eyes Food Trucks With Eagerness and Caution

Poll: Do You Want Food Trucks in Somerville?

Somerville Patch Readers Want Food Trucks, Food Trucks Want to Operate at Night