Buffalo, NY: Regulate Food Trucks

North District Common Councilman Joe Golombek

By STAFF | BuffaloNews.com

North District Common Councilman Joe Golombek

Buffalo restaurants should get behind effort to license rolling competitors

The Buffalo Common Council has delayed action on legislation that would finally regulate food trucks. The delay was granted because of the concerns of restaurant owners who fear that by establishing rules, the city will legitimize this fledgling industry and invite shady “wild west” operators.

But there’s another way to look at such legislation.

With no rules, the only check on food trucks is the police —on a seat-of-the-pants basis as complaints arise, presumably from restaurant owners who figure nearby trucks are hurting their business. That remedy—police winging it as they go along—should find support from no one. Further, the lack of rules leaves the customers wondering whether anyone is looking out for them. Again, that’s hardly good for Buffalo.

By delaying action on the legislation, the Common Council has shown that the owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants will have a seat at the table in crafting the provisions. The restaurant owners should take advantage of this uncommon opportunity. They need not be adversaries here.

The legislation, as introduced by Council Member Joseph Golombek, attempts to protect the brick-and-mortar folks by prohibiting food trucks from setting up within 100 feet of an operating restaurant and 500 feet of carnivals and other special events. License applicants must submit to a background check, and the law, if approved, would require periodic reapproval by the Common Council.

If those considerable safeguards are too few, perhaps there are others that would help protect restaurant owners, such as limiting the number of truck operators who may operate in the city, and establishing two-year reviews of the limit. And the Council could establish a committee to hear complaints as they arise, and mediate solutions.

With the delay, the Council will not take up the matter again until after its summer recess. So this summer will unfortunately pass without a system governing the operation of food trucks. Nonetheless, the postponement provides time for restaurateurs to propose reasonable changes to the Golombek legislation so a better bill can come to a vote later this year.

A system of rules for food trucks will not unleash the apocalypse some brick-and-mortar eateries fear. We just cannot agree with the dire predictions from Mark D. Campanella of Just Pizza when he says, “This could open the door for cowboys to start coming into this town,” he said. “It could be just a scene out of the wild, wild west.”

We suspect that most of the restaurant owners value open, honest competition, free of undue government interference. By keeping the truck operators in the current regulatory netherworld, the restaurateurs are hamstringing the food-truck business in a way the restaurateurs would never tolerate for themselves. With the right law, everyone can come away reasonably happy and consumers would have the benefit of a new service, as long as they are willing to support it. The restaurant owners and the Council should work toward this goal.