Hoboken's Food Truck Owners Express Worry About Proposed Changes
Roughly 40 business and food truck owners as well as some local residents attended a public meeting on Tuesday night.
Although changes to the city's food truck law aren't official yet, many of the city's mobile food vendors expressed their concerns on Tuesday night, during a public meeting hosted by Council members Jennifer Giattiano and David Mello, as well as Director of Parking and Transportation Ian Sacs.
The new rules were passed on first reading by the City Council last week. Before the rules can go into effect, another vote has to take place.
Sacs and Giattino fielded questions from the truck owners there as they maintained that the new proposed rules—which would multiply the truck owners' costs by about ten times from roughly $500 a year to about $5,000 a year—aren't meant to run the trucks out of town.
The trucks have been parking illegally, Sacs told the crowd of about 40 people. The new rules, he continued, are supposed to make the process "fair" and enforce parking rules. The current ordinance applies mostly to non-motorized food vendors, such as hot dog carts, Sacs explained. Since food trucks have increased in popularity and number, the ordinance needs to be updated, Sacs said.
The new rules would allow trucks to park in a metered spot for four hours—rather than two—as well as four hours on the visitors side of the street.
"We're not pulling the rug out from anybody," Sacs said.
But the food truck owners felt differently.
Hoda Mahmoodzadegan—who said she is planning to open a food truck together with her business partner Jason Avon, 25—called the new rules "completely outrageous."
Mahmoodzadegan, 26, said she is planning to open Molly's Milktruck, which will serve healthy, vegetarian food. Mahmoodzadegan said she is planning to move to Hoboken.
Now, she said she is worried about her new business plans. "I don't have that kind of money," she said.
The new rules would also mean that trucks aren't allowed to park within 100 feet from a brick and mortar business that has a menu and that trucks have to be at least 25 feet apart while parked and open for business.
The truck owners said they don't mind being parked close together.
Sacs said that the increased fees are necessary for the city to enforce the new policy. The proposed changes also include that truck owners install a GPS device—at their own cost—so that the city knows where they are when parked in town. This, Sacs said, will help with enforcing the parking regulations.
"The old fees," Sacs said, "are not based on reality."
Some residents expressed their support for the presence of food trucks in Hoboken. Erik Liberman, who has lived in Hoboken for four-and-a-half years, said that the vegan Cinnamon Snail lunch truck is the reason he still lives in town.
Liberman said he became a vegan a year ago and enjoys eating at the vegan truck.
"Other than bars and Italian food," he said, "there's nothing else."
There are currently 16 food trucks in town, according to Giattino. The new rules set the limit at 25 licenses—both parking and vending, which are linked to each other—for motorized food trucks. For non-motorized food vendors—such as hot dog carts—the cap is set at 50, said Sacs.
Some of the food truck owners raised concerns that the new rules were designed to protect the owners of brick and mortar businesses in town. While the discussion got heated every now and then, the meeting—which lasted two hours—was mostly civil.
The feedback from truck as well as business owners will be taken back to a subcommittee before the ordinance will appear in front of the city council again. The ordinance, with possible changes based on Tuesday's meeting, will likely be on the agenda for the Dec. 7 council meeting.
Until then, the food truck operators are back in the street, but remain worried.
Ali Gomah has been operating his food truck—Ali's Food on Wheels—for 17 years. His daughter Anna Gomah, 26, said she is worried about her father's business if the permit fees go up so drastically. The new parking regulations, she said, will force him to pick between serving breakfast or lunch.
"Choosing between breakfast or lunch is hard when this is your livelihood," she said. "When it's how you feed your family."