The city of Hermiston still has another week left on a community survey about food trucks, but the results so far send a clear message.
During Monday’s city council meeting, city planner Clint Spencer said so far 625 people who took the online survey (which closes July 15) said they were in favor of the city increasing the number of mobile vendor licenses from its current cap of three, while 110 people said the cap should stay the same.
“(The survey) runs through the 15th, but I don’t think it’s going to swing that much,” Spencer said.
He said the survey isn’t a perfect measurement of community sentiment — respondents are all people who sought out the survey, and there are no controls to make sure people answering are Hermiston residents — but the results do give a sense that there is support for a change in the city’s mobile food vending ordinance.
The ordinance, passed in 2013, placed a cap on licenses (which cost $500 per year) and set in place design and safety standards, including rules for handling gray water and a rule that the truck must be painted a neutral color. It also stated that trucks must be located at least 400 feet from other restaurants and in the city’s outlying commercial zone, which does not include downtown. Trucks must move every night, can only operate until 10 p.m. and cannot provide seating.
About 89 percent of respondents to the survey so far have said that the city should allow food trucks downtown. Similar numbers supported temporary licenses for mobile vendors and the creation of a “pod” where multiple food trucks could park. About 80 percent of respondents supported an amendment that would allow small carts that can be pushed by hand in addition to the current large trucks.
Councilor John Kirwan, who was on the committee that wrote the ordinance along with Manuel Gutierrez and then-councilor George Anderson, said that while the city is considering changes to the ordinance they needed to remember it was adopted because there had been issues with mobile vendors. Many of them were “mobile” in name only and spread out to become eyesores, he said. There were problems with how people were disposing of their wastewater, and customers of the food trucks were loitering and then using the bathrooms of nearby businesses.
“There still needs to be some regulations,” he said.
Members of the public present at Monday’s meeting voiced their support for amending the ordinance. Jim Sawyer said allowing more food trucks in town would be an economic boon for the community and allow for more diverse food options in town.
“Food trucks are the remedy for this town,” Sawyer said. “Applebee’s is not breaking ground tomorrow, darn it.”
Jose Garcia said he knows a woman who worked for Lamb Weston for decades and dreamed of opening her own “taco van” when she retired. When she was turned away by the city of Hermiston because there were no licenses available, she moved her family to Pasco so she could open her business there.
Patrick Hunt, who runs the Southern Twain BBQ food truck in Pendleton, lives in Hermiston. He said he had wanted to open his business in Hermiston but was forced to open in Pendleton because there were no licenses available. After Monday’s meeting adjourned he and his wife handed out free samples in the lobby to anyone interested in what Hermiston is missing.
Hunt said he would consider opening a second truck in Hermiston if more licenses were offered, although he also said that the requirement to move the truck every night is tiring for vendors who often work long hours. He supported the idea of a food pod, and said that having multiple food vendors together would help them put pressure on each other to keep the area clean and follow the rules.
Mayor David Drotzmann told the audience that their concerns were part of the reason the city is having the conversation about amending the rules to be less restrictive.
“Sometimes the pendulum swings too far,” he said.
The council directed staff to come back at a future meeting with recommendations after the survey closes Sunday.
On Monday the council also discussed legislative priorities for the upcoming year. The League of Oregon Cities creates a list of priorities ahead of the sessions and asks cities around the state to weigh in.
A long list of topics being considered included more flexibility for annexation, more mental health funding, steps to solve the Public Employee Retirement System’s unfunded liabilities, local control over speed limits, more money for infrastructure, property tax reform and protection of franchise fees.
City manager Byron Smith said franchise fees, which telecommunications companies pay to place their infrastructure on city-controlled rights of way, are the city’s second largest source of revenue after property taxes. Telecommunications companies have started to suggest that the shouldn’t have to pay those fees and should have more control over the rights of way and the League is interested in a preventative bill strengthening the cities’ position.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.