Tag Archives: legislation

Tuesday: Show Your Support for Buffalo’s Food Trucks

12 Mar

Today at 2pm, Buffalo’s Food Trucks will be at the Common Council as the city’s legislature debates how the food truck law might be changed. The law sunsets in April and in the past 12 months, not a single complaint has been lodged from any source against any truck. 

The trucks, however, find themselves up against some intransigent lawmakers and some brick and mortar restaurants that believe they have the right to regulate and control what the trucks do and how they do it. Also on the agenda is expanding access to downtown Buffalo Place locations and freeing Canalside up to the trucks. 

If you enjoy buying food from Buffalo’s food trucks, please come and show your support. 

Because in the end, this isn’t about whether or not the law is fair for the trucks or fair for the restaurants – this is about you. This is about you telling the city, the trucks, and the brick & mortars – I like having a choice; I like the product that the trucks offer and I want more access to more trucks – not more restrictive access to fewer trucks. We’ve already lost the Cheesy Chick grilled cheese food truck due in part to the high cost of doing business across multiple municipalities in WNY. 

Buffalo charges trucks $1,000 per year, while it costs a restaurant between $175 – 325 per year to hold a take out license. The city claims that it needs to charge trucks $1,000 per year because of the administrative costs involved, yet refuses to release a breakdown of those costs. 

Ultimately, it might be time for a regionwide statute that is applicable to all municipalities in Erie County with a single fee paid. You want to encourage and help entrepreneurship in western New York? Then this should be the test case. 

But for the time being, please show your support for your favorite food trucks. They need it, and the city’s lawmakers need to understand that this isn’t only about the trucks and the restaurants – it’s about you. 

Food Truck Law: It’s a Go on the 24th

20 Jan

On Wednesday, the Buffalo Common Council took up the issue of the proposed food truck legislation (after a lengthy and heated Acropolis expansion hearing). As I reported on Wednesday, the WNY Food Truck Association has reluctantly agreed to support the bill as written, and request no changes. Although they were displeased with the radius requirement, the hefty licensure fee, and some other issues, they were willing to give it a shot for a year as written, and come back when the law sunsets to discuss ways in which it might be improved going forward.

A source close to the food truck group was present at the hearing, and learned early on that both Golombek – the bill’s sponsor – and Council President Fontana would be moving it towards a vote next Tuesday the 24th. More importantly, Fontana indicated that he would not be requesting the “one truck per block face” rule.

When Mitch Stenger, the lawyer for the food truck association, addressed the council and repeated the group’s concerns with the legislation, but that they would rather see it passed than further delayed.  After the Acropolis debate ended, Councilmember Golombek made some perfunctory remarks, and then Councilmember Mickey Kearns rose to speak.  Kearns spoke out against the high license fee, and stated that the city should be helping – not punishing – these start-up entrepreneurs.  Kearns then proposed that the bill be amended to lower the license fee to $300 per year, and then surprisingly asked that the “one truck per block face” rule be added, as well as an expansion of the 100′ radius to 175′.

Any such amendment was unacceptable to the food trucks, most importantly because any such change would further delay passage of the law by a minimum of two weeks.

Then Councilmember Rivera rose to speak favorably on behalf of the food trucks, but then proposed that the license fee be lowered to $500, and seconded Kearns’ “one truck per block face” amendment. My sources indicate that neither Kearns nor Rivera had discussed any of these changes with anyone else on the council.

At this point, Stenger rejected both Kearns’ and Rivera’s amendments, demanding that the bill be submitted to the full council as currently written.  The session was quickly adjourned after that.

Afterwards, representatives for the food trucks were assured privately by numerous councilmembers that there were enough votes to pass the bill on the 24th. The vote will take place during the session that begins at 2pm. There will not be any public comment period, but food truck supporters are encouraged to attend in a show of support. 


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Buffalo Food Truck Legislation Debated

5 Jan

A hearing of the Buffalo Common Council’s Legislative Committee was held yesterday on the issue of a proposed statute legalizing food trucks within the city. You can read the proposed legislation and sign a petition here.

Truck advocates are generally pleased with the proposed law, but questioned the need to carry around two 65-gallon garbage cans in their trucks, and sought clarity on the definition of “property line” as set forth in the proposed law. An added issue I have with the law is that it should be easy for kitchens to waive the 100′ ban in an informal way, if mutually agreed-to.

It is expected that the final legislation will be passed before the end of this month. This will clarify, legalize, and regulate the food trucks’ operations for the 2012 warm weather season.

Courtesy of the Buffalo News’ Aaron Besecker, you can watch video of some of the presentations made at yesterday’s hearing, and pay close attention to Zetti’s Pizza’s John Fusco, who has a request for people who would vilify him on the internet. (For what it’s worth, I like Zetti’s, and I like John, but I think he’s wrong on this issue.)  Unfortunately, the Buffalo News does not permit embedding of videos.


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Support Buffalo’s Food Trucks

16 Dec

The Western New York Food Truck Association, which is the unified voice of Buffalo’s food trucks, is still waiting for the City of Buffalo to draft, debate, vote on, and pass legislation that will legalize and regulate their business and movement within city limits. Buffalo Place, the organization that is in charge of regulating business activity in the downtown core, has already gone on record as pledging to follow whatever rules city government puts in place.

Legislation that was under consideration this past summer was tabled, and although the city was urged to resolve these issues before the weather turned lousy, it is now mid-December and the trucks are still waiting for a clear and concise set of rules under which to do business in the city.  The WNY Food Truck Association, in conjunctino with the Institute for Justice, have produced this video to explain what they want, and what’s at stake.

Please contact the Common Council and let them know that legislation should be passed to legalize and regulate these food trucks in Buffalo as soon as possible. Better still, you can sign this petition, which will result in an email being sent to the Mayor and each Common Council member.

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The Food Trucks Propose a Law (UPDATED)

28 Oct

The following document was filed with the Common Council today. It represents the law the food trucks would like to see enacted to regulate their business in the city of Buffalo.

UPDATE: The document I posted below was missing a page from the proposed bill. Here is the entire document: 

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Note that they are adamantly against – and will oppose – any distance restriction beyond a 100′ from an open kitchen, or 500′ from a festival.  Apart from that, no additional restrictions are proposed. The definition of a food truck is clarified to exclude hot dog vendors and trailers, and the statute is rather succinct in requiring a license, health inspections by the county, and the aforementioned radius from brick & mortar restaurants. That’s it.

The ball’s now in the Common Council’s court. This proposal was filed so that the Council could consider it at its November 1st meeting.

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The #BUFTruck Legislation: Tabled Again

26 Oct

Yesterday, the Common Council’s Legislation Committee met again to take up the issue of food truck legislation. Attorneys for both sides spoke, indicating that some progress had been made – some of it by the attorneys over beers – but that significant issues remain unresolved.

In some ways, this sort of legislation-by-committee of stakeholders is a textbook example of how not to push a legislative initiative. Evidently, the meetings between the food truck and brick & mortar representatives degenerated into shouting. It’s time for the common council to understand that it’s never going to satisfy everybody, and that life isn’t fair. So, it needs to craft some reasonable rules, implement them, pass it, and let the market figure out what happens.

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One of the proposals includes a sunset provision – after one year, the law expires unless the common council takes action to amend or renew it. This gives everyone an opportunity to see how the law works in practice over four seasons, and both sides seemed amenable to it.

One of yesterday’s speakers was Christina Walsh from the Institute of Justice.  The WNY Food Truck Association retained her to explain to the Council that fewer regulations are better than more, and that complicated regulations in some cities have essentially turned trucks into outlaws. She indicated that these food trucks help get feet on the streets and generate their own jobs and economic activity. Most significantly, she helped to rebut the canard that the food trucks have all the advantages over brick & mortar restaurants. Tell it to someone who (a) doesn’t know where the truck is on any given day; and (b) has to wait in inclement weather to get food they need to eat in inclement weather.

How pathetic is it that the Food Trucks had to retain the services of a freedom expert in order to fight for the right to serve tacos, burgers, coffee, and BBQ from mobile canteens?

Councilmember David Rivera indicated that the meeting yesterday had been set up to get input from additional voices, but that none of them had shown up.  The meeting was somewhat abruptly adjourned after 45 minutes.

I have some questions out to various people involved in this issue, and as I get more details I’ll relay them here. In the meantime, be sure to join the WNY Food Truck Association Facebook page, and follow your local food trucks:

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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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The Food Truck Public Meeting: What to Expect

28 Sep

1. It will be in room 1417 of City Hall at 10am on Thursday September 28th.  In case the crowd is too large, there is a strong possibility that the meeting might be moved to the legislative chambers on the 13th floor.

2. You will have an opportunity to speak, if you wish.  Look for a sign-in sheet. There are no restrictions on who can speak, but it is likely that your comments will be limited in time, and that they be relevant to the matter at hand.  Tailor your remarks in such a way as to zealously advocate on behalf of the food trucks you love, while recognizing the legitimate concerns that existing brick & mortar restaurants have.  If you have specific recommendations or ideas, bring them up – don’t assume that it’s obvious, and don’t assume it’s already been thought of. If you have researched the matter and can point to specific provisions of actual laws that have been enacted in other cities, cite them.

3. This is not a bitch session. This is your opportunity to be heard with respect to some real, positive legislative change that will put Buffalo ahead of many other cities in the state. If you’re a Buffalo booster – young or old – this is a big deal.

4. Come with your mind open. Do not presume that all restaurants are opposed to food trucks. Do not prejudge what the councilmembers’ opinions or positions are. If someone speaks on behalf of a business association with which you disagree, listen respectfully. When you’re doing something novel – when you’re ahead of the times – there’s a lot of hand-wringing and anxiety that goes into that. Be respectful of others’ viewpoints, and expect them to be respectful of yours.

5. The matter is not going to be resolved tomorrow.  You will not walk out of there having witnessed a new food truck law being debated and enacted. This is just one part of a lengthy process, which will continue to evolve and be discussed and debated – both privately and publicly.

6. The meeting will be live-streamed. Look for it here at WNYMedia.net.

Health Insurance In the US Will Not Be Reformed

16 Dec

A libertarian extols the virtues of the French single-payer health care system, and declares it vastly superior to the American status quo, but doesn’t want to implement it here because I-Me-Mine:

when free marketers warn that Democratic health care initiatives will make us more “like France,” a big part of me says, “I wish.” It’s not that I think it’s either feasible or advisable for the United States to adopt a single-payer, government-dominated system. But it’s instructive to confront the comparative advantages of one socialist system abroad to sharpen the arguments for more capitalism at home.

For a dozen years now I’ve led a dual life, spending more than 90 percent of my time and money in the U.S. while receiving 90 percent of my health care in my wife’s native France. On a personal level the comparison is no contest: I’ll take the French experience any day. ObamaCare opponents often warn that a new system will lead to long waiting times, mountains of paperwork, and less choice among doctors. Yet on all three of those counts the French system is significantly better, not worse, than what the U.S. has now.

Need a prescription for muscle relaxers, an anti-fungal cream, or a steroid inhaler for temporary lung trouble? In the U.S. you have to fight to get on the appointment schedule of a doctor within your health insurance network (I’ll conservatively put the average wait time at five days), then have him or her scrawl something unintelligible on a slip of paper, which you take to a drugstore to exchange for your medicine. You might pay the doc $40, but then his office sends you a separate bill for the visit, and for an examination, and those bills also go to your insurance company, which sends you an adjustment sheet weeks after the doctor’s office has sent its third payment notice. By the time it’s all sorted out, you’ve probably paid a few hundred dollars to three different entities, without having a clue about how or why any of the prices were set.

In France, by contrast, you walk to the corner pharmacist, get either a prescription or over-the-counter medication right away, shell out a dozen or so euros, and you’re done. If you need a doctor, it’s not hard to get an appointment within a day or three, you make payments for everything (including X-rays) on the spot, and the amounts are routinely less than the co-payments for U.S. doctor visits. I’ve had back X-rays, detailed ear examinations, even minor oral surgery, and never have I paid more than maybe €300 for any one procedure.

The United States Senate has effectively killed off the byzantine centrist compromise called the “public option”, and is poised to pass some form of legislation that will, perchance, provide some sorely needed consumer protection in the health insurance industry, and, mayhaps, will insure more people, but the type of system such as that described above is denigrated as un-American socialism.

You know, a few weeks ago I saw billboards over in Ontario that were selling “fast-track your medical procedure” at Kaleida facilities in New York. Definitely there are problems inherent in the Canadian system, and those provincial health ministries are acutely aware of them and working to improve the speed of service. I’ve seen Canadian medical records in my line of work, and they depict excellent care, done efficiently, with no waiting list even for MRIs – if you go to the right facility.

But if you look at that Kaleida site, there are only a handful of procedures that are highlighted for Ontarian medical travelers – bariatrics (weight-control surgery), colonoscopies, orthopedics, pediatrics, and radiology. The United States could very well adopt a Canadian single-payer system and endeavor to avoid the mistakes that Canada has made. Look at the French experience, above. Instead, we reject the Canadian experience because it isn’t perfect.

I looked at the wait times for Mississauga, a busy Toronto suburb. 96 days for knee replacement surgery. But you can click a link to see the shortest wait times in the province, and find you can go to Mt Sinai in Toronto, where the wait is 61 days. Or you can go to a hospital in Chatham, where the wait is only 48 days. For lung cancer surgery, the wait is 22 days in Mississauga hospitals; the shortest wait time in the province.

The wait for an MRI is also 96 days for Mississauga hospitals. But click the link, and there’s a hospital in Toronto that will see you in only 28 days, which meets the Provincial target time.

The procedures are fully covered – no bills, no possibility of rescission. The care received is exactly what your doctor thinks you should get, regardless of cost. We can demagogue the Canadian system all we want – and frankly France does it better than Canada – but to reject single-payer out of hand because of wait times that can be more than halved if you’re willing to drive the equivalent distance between Millard Suburban and Buffalo General, is ridiculous.

Our system is far from perfect. In fact, it’s far more broken and expensive and wasteful than Canada’s. And wait times? I called my doctor for a checkup – a well visit – and had to pick a day 4 weeks away. For sick visits, I usually have to wait a day or two, and sit in a waiting room, feeling ill, for literally hours. Oh, huzzah.

Ideally, we’d let the doctors design the legislation. The system we choose to adopt should make their jobs easier. Instead, we leave the job to congress and the health insurance lobby.

Oh, and Joe Lieberman is a disgrace.

Mandate Relief ? !

12 Nov

From a press release received today:

Assemblymember Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) announced that the Legislature passed his bill providing mandate relief for municipalities (A.2 Extraordinary Session Assembly Bill) that will streamline government, cut wasteful spending, and save taxpayers millions…

…Hoyt’s legislation, one of two bills voted on during Tuesday’s special session, would reduce the cost of local government through state mandate-relief and increased flexibility for local governments to empower municipal leaders to find operational efficiencies. Specifically, this bill would:

· Reduce the minimum number of municipal corporations needed to establish a health insurance cooperative from five to three;

· Facilitate highway shared services agreements among municipalities, and between municipalities and state agencies;

· Allow one public health director to serve more than one county;

· Increase the local competitive bidding threshold for all contracts for public work involving an expenditure of more than $20,000 to $35,000

· Authorize the Municipal Bond Bank Agency to purchase municipal bonds for public improvements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and allow them to issue pooled municipal bonds to achieve lower interest rates;

· Treat municipal employees the same as private sector employees by prohibiting them from seeking recovery against a public employer for damages otherwise covered by insurance; and

· Protect parties to the settlement of tort claims from certain unwarranted liens, reimbursements and subrogation claims.

“This legislation will enable all units of local government to accelerate economic development projects in both the public and private sector. It will provide greater efficiencies and lower the cost of government at the local level,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. “As sponsor of this governmental reform measure, Assemblyman Hoyt was instrumental in leading this bill through a complicated legislative process, and county leaders appreciate his tireless efforts to make this happen.”

“I am committed to reducing the excessive and unnecessary tax burden currently borne by working families across this state, which is why I fought to create a new law earlier this year that will enable people to reduce the size of their local governments. That law, combined with this one, are important to streamline our government, give municipalities greater flexibility, and put more money in people’s pockets instead of paying for wasteful, unnecessary services,” Hoyt concluded.