Thoughts on the #BUFTruck Council Hearing (UPDATED)

30 Sep

As promised, here are my thoughts about the Food Truck public hearing at City Hall yesterday:

1. It was striking that only one person spoke in opposition to the food trucks.  John Fusco of Zetti’s has become something of an unintentional internet phenomenon with his focus on restrooms and his strong New York accent, but upon reflection, boycotting these restaurants isn’t the answer. I know Fusco, and he’s a good guy. I disagree strongly with what he said, but I appreciate that he was the solitary truck opponent to get up and voice his concerns. I have a bigger problem with the other restaurants, who put on a conciliatory public face while trying to kill or hyper-restrict the trucks.

2. The truck owners were very eloquent advocates for their cause. Pete Cimino of Where’s Lloyd was especially passionate and really killed it.

3. The Common Councilmembers who were present (all except Mickey Kearns) all seemed to indicate that they were willing to pass a law to regulate (in a good way) food trucks, and are concerned about the time, place, and manner details. This is the sausage-making that most people ignore, but is critically important.

4. The resolution at the end of the meeting was that the trucks and restaurants put their heads together and come up with a set of rules that everyone can live with. It is hoped that recommendations from this advisory committee will be completed within 30 days, in the hope that the law can be changed by November.

5. Going back to that word – “regulation”. It sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap. Regulating food trucks with time, place, and manner restrictions is a massive improvement over the status quo, whereby the trucks are prohibited from working the streets and setting up just about anywhere except on private property, or in locations for which they have a permit.

6. The story told by architect and developer Steve Carmina was startling. He owns a building at Main & Mohawk that likely wouldn’t have been leased had Lloyd’s taco truck not set up there and made that corner a destination of sorts a few days per week. That stretch of Main Street is especially bleak and depressing, but when that truck is there, it acts as a magnet for people from all over the city and region. He gave the truck credit for that pedestrian traffic and resulting economic activity, which in effect revitalized that corner.

7. There has been some “first world problems” and “stuff white people like” type criticism over this issue. I get it. But scratch the surface, and this is an issue that has plagued Buffalo for years – the city’s business friendliness. There’s loads of reasons why Buffalo’s downtown business district is a bleak shell even between 9 – 5 on a weekday.  Further restrictions on mobile businesses will only help to perpetuate that – ease them and perhaps it’ll change.

8. The food trucks are at a seasonal disadvantage. When the temperature drops, their customers won’t take kindly to standing in line for an extended period of time exposed to the elements. The regulations the city imposes should be eased between November – March to let the food trucks more easily find customers.

9. Two people spoke, expressing to the Council that they were prepared to invest huge money into their own food trucks, but not until the legal uncertainties were resolved. That’s the real-life consequence of slow action on needed legislation.

10. It’s great that people are taking an interest in this political process.  Hopefully, they’ll recognize that almost all of Buffalo’s problems have political solutions and they’ll become more involved and active.

11. I will try to keep on top of the committee’s work and report what sort of progress is being made, and what sort of nonsense might be taking place.

12. The legislative process is silly and slow, but the city, her leaders, and their staff are listening. A petition posted earlier this week has garnered over 4,300 signatures solely based on social media.  Each time that petition was signed, that signature was sent via email to each Councilmember and the head of Buffalo Place.

13. The Mayor’s office has been characteristically silent. Typical. Why is he letting the Council lead on this issue? Why isn’t the Mayor taking a stand one way or another – why isn’t he saying anything about what is at its core a story about how the city deals with businesses, and how quickly it adapts to novelty? To my mind, Byron Brown should spend the next week sampling the wares at each of the trucks, listening to their concerns and stories.  He should be thanking them for enhancing the quality of life downtown. Because he’s a politician, he should also be listening to the concerned restaurants.  He should also then be using his office to be a leader, and help bring about a fair resolution that is a win for everyone. We don’t have a mayor like that, apparently. This issue underscores what a disappointment that is.

UPDATE: 14. I forgot to add the most important part. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FOOD TRUCKS. 


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22 Responses to “Thoughts on the #BUFTruck Council Hearing (UPDATED)”

  1. Michael Powers September 30, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Interesting that Zetti’s had the only guy who wanted to speak up and he is in an area where the trucks have barely been by. This issue has mystified me as the brick and mortar crowd were cowering over something that never occured yet when given the chance, pulled their trailers right up as places like MIA. Hopefully common sense wins the day and the fixed structure places worry more about the quality of their offerings (which is what gets people in your door in the first place) instead of what might be down the block.

  2. Jesse September 30, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    Byron Brown couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag.  What a disappointment.

  3. Rob September 30, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    Is Zetti’s even located in Buffalo?

    • Alan Bedenko September 30, 2011 at 9:57 am #

      There’s one on Elmwood.

  4. Mike In WNY September 30, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    The word “regulation”, in this case, deserves the bad rap. While the end result might be better, there is no reason government should decide how, when and where “free” people spend their money for something to eat.

  5. peteherr September 30, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Mike, Mike, Mike. I really wish I could live in your world for a day.

  6. Brian F. Wood September 30, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Nor should governments be inspecting food and intrusive stuff like that. If you’re stupid enough to let your kid ingest e.coli, or salmonella, or c. difficile, or cholera, you deserve your loss.

  7. Mike In WNY September 30, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    Pete, I wish I could too. Unfortunately I am trapped in your world by the threat of force and imprisonment.

  8. Mike In WNY September 30, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Brian, you mean like these food-borne illnesses that struck thousands of Americans? Those people all put their trust in a massively expensive federal bureaucracy to protect them.

  9. Rob September 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    So since some pathogens got through despite inspections, etc., we shouldn’t have inspections at all. Awesome “idea” – no wonder you guys are so popular.

  10. Mike In WNY September 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Well, Rob, I shouldn’t have let myself be sidetracked from the original point, Food Truck Regulations. The spinoff is a conversation in itself. Perhaps someone would like to explain how regulating where and when the food trucks roam protects and benefits the average consumer. If there is no explanation for that, then what justification is there for that type of government regulation? My point is based on the stipulation that all health laws are being followed.

  11. Rob September 30, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    By the way – recalling your comment on the Triangle factory fire (“No one forced those workers to work there”) – why do you say you’re “trapped in [Brian’s] world by the threat of force and imprisonment”? Who’s forcing yo to stay in Obamerica, or stopping you from moving to some libertarian paradise? Maybe one of those libertoid floating oil platforms would suit you. Seriously, don’t feel trapped or imprisoned – exercise your Constitutional right to get the hell out.

  12. Mike In WNY September 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Rob, you don’t disappoint, when you have no answer, you just change the subject. Maybe you should run for office.

  13. MJC September 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Last year, there were countless murders, despite the laws that expressly forbid murder. Logically then, government cannot effectively regulate murder and should just leave it to the people to deal with. Because they know best.

    Extreme example? How much different are the current argument againsts airline regulation? Sorry, Flight 3407 victims. I am sure that Colgan and US Airways will straighten up once you exercise your free market choice to stop flying on their planes.

  14. MJC September 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    That said, I am in favor of the food trucks setting up virtually everywhere. I hope they pull right into my driveway.
    I also hope at least one drives though the window of a Just Pizza, “Cheeburger Cheeburger”-style, but without the loss of life obviously. I just think it would be refreshingly ironic.

  15. John (not McCain) September 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    “Mike, Mike, Mike. I really wish I could live in your world for a day.

    Why would you want to be 2 years old again?

  16. Bbill September 30, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    or stopping you from moving to some libertarian paradise?

    Mike – please name one. One example of a society anywhere or anytime that has adopted a teabagger socioeconomic structure and thrived. Thanks in advance.

  17. Starbuck September 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Aside from any past disagreements any of you have with Mike, why should a distance regulation even be needed?

    As long as they pay the parking machine/meter and follow all existing laws about trucks and food, why not let food trucks park as close as legally possible and where space is available, then people can choose.

    What current law would that violate? If they’re already licensed to sell food from private property spots, what offense did police charge if they tried doing the same thing a few feet away in a public space? If it’s legal for ice cream trucks to park on public streets, what’s the legal difference?

    I suppose just to not annoy restaurant owners too much, the council will set a distance limit like 100 or 200 feet, but what’s the point of it? Won’t it be as likely that a truck at that distance will attract close to the same number of customers anyway? When I want to buy from a truck, that distance won’t change my mind. Knowing they had to park that far away, it could make me even more likely to choose the truck over the restaurant just because of that.

  18. jimd September 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    I don’t get any of this argument, it is apples and oranges. Walk in a restaurant in the summer it is cool, in the winter it is warm. Food trucks do not provide this amenity. Nor to they have restrooms, flatscreens or a bar. Or a roof for that matter. Food trucks are cool but I don’t see where they pose a threat to brick and mortar joints.

  19. Willard October 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    I personally love the idea that a big part of Main Street is without cars. The problem is that this part of Main is also without businesses. Why not allow food trucks to be mobile restaurants that would be allowed to set up in this area? Last fall we had the Eat Real Festival in Oakland on Jack London Square –it was awesome and I see no reason we can’t do that here in Buffalo where I now life. Chris Collins is fond of his vision of making Buffalo a world class destination where people want to live, businesses want to locate, and tourists want to visit. I have lived on the SF Bay Area for a long time and I chose to live here instead. However, I have not good answer for the steady stream of colleagues visiting from England, India, and Germany who ask why Buffalo has an empty downtown. We all know the story. But my take is that food trucks can help fill the gap for the downtown lunch black hole as well as the black hole the CVB needs filled during the convention business it work so hard to bring into the city. I believe HIGH QUALITY FOOD TRUCKS can really help. The key is quality, quality, quality..take a look at what Oregon did as well –they created a place like a farmers market where the trucks can park and vend.


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