ITHACA, NY – Despite tensions between some Ithaca restaurants and the food trucks, Dos Amigos taco truck co-owner Jorge Bouras believes that the groups should be working with, not against, each other.

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On Monday, Jan. 21, the issue will get a deeper look as a special sub-committee of the Board of Public Works is convened to discuss the problems and possible solutions.

The Ithaca Board of Public Works will be holding a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 21., to discuss the ongoing issue and potentially discuss changes to the current regulations.

On recommendation of the board, Bouras and his business partner David Farahi have taken steps toward forming a “food truck association” that could collectively work with local restaurants to the benefit of all parties.

Related: Dos Amigos from Cornell launch traditional Mexican food truck

Bouras said progress has been slow since Farahi has been out of town, but he has spoken to some other food truck operators and gotten a positive response.

Nothing concrete has formed yet, however. “At this point, it’s just throwing ideas around,” Bouras said.

Bouras says he understands the restaurants position, but feels their focus is misplaced. “I know why they’re angry. I understand where they’re coming from, but this isn’t a battle worth fighting. The focus shouldn’t be on restricting food trucks – my feeling is, more food is better. Business brings business.”

Costs of doing business don’t match up

One of the key points of contention for restaurant owners is that their expenses are astronomically larger than those of food trucks.

Attorney Nathan Lyman, who represents Ithaca Renting and its restaurant tenants on Eddy St., told the Voice in an email that since 2011, the government has raised property taxes at the Eddy Street property by 32 percent to $84,650, water and sewer rates by 43 percent, and also added new fees – in addition to the cost of inspections for health and Fire safety.

Food trucks, he says, are subject to none of those expenses.

Lyman brought up the example of Sangam Indian Restaurant “The building owner paid a premium for the location when he bought the building and is taxed accordingly. These students were given a prime corner restaurant location by the city, and paid nothing for it.”

Adding that Dos Amigos owners – both Cornell students – may leave the city once they graduate, Lyman said: “Why would the city give preference to transient individuals that do not invest in the community and who pay no real property taxes, over citizens who have invested here, live and have worked here for decades?”

Related: Ithaca restauranteurs push back against food trucks in Collegetown

Bouras argues that “through the roof” rents and expenses were the source of the difficulties and should be the focus, not the food trucks.

He added that business isn’t easy for food trucks, either. “There are things that are good and bad about being a food truck, just as there are things that are good and bad things about being a brick and mortar restaurant.”

Lyman suggests that Bouras’ argument is a misdirection.

Lyman says, “It is not surprising that the food truck operators find it convenient to distract the public’s attention by casting aspersions on landlords, when the real issue is the clear, discriminatory benefit they derive by favorable treatment from the city.  The city should not be in the landlord business, or the business of picking winners and losers in this discriminatory fashion.”

Expectations from the meeting

Bouras says he’s not expecting immediate changes from the upcoming meeting, but he hopes it will open the lines of communication between food truck operators and restaurant owners.

“A lot of the issues that arise between brick and mortar restaurants and food trucks are just miscommunication,” Bouras said. “Once we’re on the same page, we can try and tackle the issues together.”

From Lyman’s perspective, the conflicts aren’t as innocent as Bouras believes. “I have been told that food truck operators have gone into restaurants and demanded that patrons/workers move their car or be towed,” he said. “I will leave it to you to determine if that is a ‘miscommunication.’”

For Lyman’s clients, the goals for the meeting are more clear-cut. “They are hoping that the city follows its own regulations,” which stipulate that food trucks must be at least 200 feet from the nearest restaurants.

Lyman says those regulations have been violated multiple times.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.