ITHACA, NY – Frustrated outbursts punctuated a discussion meeting on Ithaca’s food truck issue on Monday, when it was made clear that the public was not allowed input.
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Roughly a dozen local business owners, both of brick and mortar stores and of food trucks, attended the meeting. Many seemed to be under the impression that they would be able to speak their piece – but the floor was reserved for members of the food truck subcommittee and two interested city alderpersons.
On at least two occasions, members of the public attempted to interject into the discussion, but were not acknowledged.
“Thank you very much for listening to what we have to say,” one clearly frustrated business owner said sarcastically, as the meeting drew to a close. “Because it’s exactly the way we feel about parking a truck in front of our restaurant.”
It was clarified that the Board of Public Works would hear public comment later that evening. The notice sent out by the city did say as much.
Attorney Nathan Lyman, who represents some restaurant owners in Collegetown, said “You had a lot of people here from the business community, they sent out a notice … telling us to be here. To not allow the people who took time off from their restaurants to stand up and speak when they had an hour left on their agenda, I think was exceedingly unfortunate.”
Lyman indicated he would be back for the Board of Public Works meeting later to comment.
Key issue absent from the agenda?
One of the key issues in the food truck debate – the tension created by competition between local restaurant owners and food truck operators – seemed to be skirted by the discussion, at least initially.
In presenting the list of issues brought to the Department of Public Works attention, that specific concern was absent.
First Ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock questioned the apparent oversight, to which DPW executive assistant Kathy Servoss explained that although the department had heard of those concerns, no individual party presented a direct complaint.
The concern was added to the list at Brock’s suggestion. The full list included issues such as enforcement of regulations, tax laws and inspections on food trucks, concerns about blocked sidewalks and parking spaces, and noise concerns in regards to generators.
A way forward
Servoss said that she felt the meeting was productive, saying that the committee now has a “way forward” to continue tackling the issue. She pointed out that the program is still a pilot program, 2015 being its first full year.
“Nothing is set in stone, and I am more than willing to discuss changing the policy,” she said.
After over an hour of discussion, the committee seemed to have made three key decisions:
1 – The city will not look to add or subtract any food truck spaces for the time being. Currently, there are ten spots for trucks in the city. There are two remaining open slots, with three new applications for food trucks pending.
Some committee members expressed the benefits of moving some trucks on to the Cornell campus, but said that that decision was not within DPW’s purview.
2 – The city will look at raising the rates they are charging the food trucks. Servoss reported that between 2014 and 2015, the city collected $7,500 in licensing and application fees. The city also charges the food trucks for the parking spaces they use. Restaurant owners have argued that these amounts are a pittance compared to the property taxes they pay.
3 – The city will take another look at how best to enforce regulations on food trucks – such as the hours they are allowed to operate and the areas they are allowed to occupy. Currently, the responsibility for enforcement falls on an already stretched thin Ithaca Police Department, as DPW does not have employees working during the hours when issues tend to arise.
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