Washington, DC: The District to Reopen Vending Comments on Friday

By Tim Carman | WashingtonPost.com

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Following the mysterious disappearance of more than 1,000 pro-food truck e-mails, the office of Mayor Vincent Gray has decided to reopen the public comment period for the District’s proposed vending regulations, which were published in early October. The new comment period starts Friday and ends at 5 p.m. Dec. 28.

There is no causal relationship between the missing e-mails and the new comment period, says Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for the mayor. “I don’t think that really factored into our equation,” Ribeiro tells All We Can Eat.

“We thought, ‘When it comes to our part, erring on the side of more comments is better than erring on the side of less comments,’ ” he adds.

Ribeiro notes that both the DC Food Truck Association and theRestaurant Association Metropolitan Washington had asked to reopen the comment period to solicit more public input on the regulations. Both groups have been battling over the future of street vending in the District, each lobbying the city for rules that would either limit food trucks (RAMW’s position) or give them the freedom to roam the streets (DCFTA’s position).

For its part, DCFTA is concerned about 1,128 e-mail letters from food truck supporters that were never received by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which was collecting public comments. The e-mails were generated by the association’s automated letter-writing site, RulesThatWork.org, which has been encouraging food truck fans to oppose the city’s plan to give the District Department of Transportation new authority over street vending. The association also points out that letters from three DCFTA members — BBQ Bus,Curbside Cupcakes and Sinplicity Ice Cream — were not posted onDCRA’s site with the other public comments.

“These two incidents caused us to be concerned that other letters might also be missing,” says Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the food truck association in an e-mail to All We Can Eat. “For that reason, we asked Mayor Gray to reopen the public comment period.”

Helder Gil, legislative affairs specialist for DCRA, is still scratching his head over the missing automated comments. He says the city’s IT team looked into the problem and could not find the e-mails anywhere in the system. As for the three letters from DCFTA members, Gil says he did receive them but, for some unknown reason, they never made it online. They’re online now, he notes.

For the latest round of comments, Gil promises to put public e-mails and letters online the day after they are received by DCRA. That way, he says, people will be able to tell within 24 hours if their comments were received or were somehow blocked.

While the number of comments for the third round of vending regulations were minuscule compared with the comments received after the second round — about 200 versus the 3,500 collected earlier in the year — Gil says the new batch of opinions were far more detailed.

“We received far more substantive comments than we did previously,” Gil says. “Those are far more worthwhile and far more useful than just getting a whole bunch of copy-and-paste e-mails.”

Words to consider if you plan to submit a comment this time. All letters should be e-mailed to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov or mailed to:

Helder Gil

Legislative Affairs Specialist

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

1100 Fourth St. SW, Room 5164

Washington, D.C. 20024