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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.

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.

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.

Jason Scott of , Adam Sobel of , Joe Glaser of La Vita Bella and Ali Gomah of Ali's Food on Wheels (as well as others) were also present to express their concerns.

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."

Room Eightyfour November 23, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Ian, I agree, everyone seems to be missing the first point to this discussion. There is no license for how these food trucks are currently operating their businesses. Homeowners, Business owners, employees and vistors have been following the new parking rules for months now. If they dont they are being ticketed. The food trucks have been allow to break the parking laws in hoboken for years with zero enforcement. What i would like to see before the next meeting is have all the food truck follow their rules and regs that there $500.00 license is actually for, and if they dont let them get ticketed or booted like everyone else. Then they will have a better understanding of what the rest of hoboken deals with on a regular basis as it relates to parking. The system is not perfect but its the one we have and everyone should follow and play by the same rules. No exceptions..
Redrider765 November 23, 2011 at 08:36 PM
Greenhaven, there is a reason I do what I do for a living and you do what you do. My common sense tells me if a food truck has to pay more in fees as a % of sales than a pizza place pays in real estate taxes then your whole "they don't pay their fair share" argument bunk. What you are proposing, a punitive tax on food truck sales that will vastly exceed the level of real estate taxes the B&M competition pays. This is not asking food trucks to pay their fair share, it is asking food trucks to go to another town. As for your whole public subsidy comment, we subsidize everyone that parks on city streets so I could care less if food trucks park on city streets. And since most seem to park at meters and all currently pay a $500 fee, that means we subsidize these vehicles less than 99% of the other vehicles that visit our town. Unless you plan on massive city wide parking fees in the hundreds or thousands of dollars for all vehicles, I just don't see the need to discriminate against 25 food trucks and not treat the thousands of other vehicles that park in town similarly.
franksinatra November 23, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Green - a food truck has just as much of a right to park on a public street as any car or other vehicle. just because it's operating a business shouldn't make any difference. i own a house on a residential side street but all sorts of commercial vehicles park in front every day--cable trucks, and landscaping vehicles, PSE&G trucks, etc. You have this weird distinction in your head that some vehicles should be more favored than others--that some should pay nothing (or just the meter) and some should buy $500 or $5,000 licenses just to provide a service we want. And your point about auctioning off licenses indicates that maybe you shouldn't have skipped those Econ 101 classes. Auctioning off only 25 licenses when the demand is much higher would obviously create a cartel of food trucks willing to pay much higher than free market value in return for keeping much of the competition out. And the city is not subsidizing anything. You seem to believe that it's the city's money but it might be willing to let the food trucks keep some of it in return for "diversity of product." Why not have no fee, as RR as suggested, and have even more diversity of product? There are no costs associated with having the food trucks here, except for the routine parking enforcement the city has to do anyway, so why is there any need for a fee at all? you haven't made your case.
franksinatra November 23, 2011 at 09:18 PM
Ian Rintel -- no one is saying these trucks should park illegally. If they're overstaying the four-hour limit, ticket them or boot them, just like with any other vehicle in town. but the lack of enforcement--if indeed you're right and the food trucks aren't getting ticketed--is no excuse for a punitive new law that will drive them out of town, reduce competition and give residents fewer choices. And what Green and a few others miss here is that even if the trucks can afford the $5,000 (plus the cost of a GPS) -- which i seriously doubt because if they're profitable enough to swallow that nut, then they'd be restaurants--they'll move out of town anyway because they can make more money in towns with no or lower fees. it's not a question of: can they afford the fee? it's: are we pricing ourselves out of the market?
Owen A Jase November 23, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Rory...again...you should be concerned about the employees and owners of Hoboken businesses that feed the meters all day. That amounts to hundreds of spots on Washington Street. These trucks occupy a handful of spots. In the end this is all just a thinly veiled attempt to protect b&m restaurants and the landlords that collect their exorbitant rents. If someone wants to buy a used prada purse that bad they will find a parking spot.
greenhaven November 23, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Red - There is indeed a reason why you do what you do and I do what I do and that sort of comment makes the reason self-evident. We've established that you have no actual knowledge of the finances of the food truck businesses serving Hoboken. therefore you have absolutely no idea whether any will leave Hoboken, or even have their businesses materially effected by these fees. You,as a matter of your "common sense" are convinced to a virtual certainty that it will. I, based on my "common sense" believe that it likely will not but acknowledge, unlike you,that I don't actually know. That's why I'd like to see some of the trucks support their hardship claim with actual evidence based on their actual finances.
greenhaven November 23, 2011 at 10:24 PM
You appear to feel that the trucks have an absolute right to run commercial enterprises within a public right of way, and that the imposition of a fee is somehow unfairly punitive. You say you we subsidize everyone who parks on city streets (true) so you don't mind subsidizing businesses as well. You are certainly entitled to that opinion - after all as Mike Russo has said - subsidizing things is what government does. I too don't mind subsidizing the food trucks to some extent by allowing them to operate in the public right of way for less than the market price that could be established through a competitive bidding system. I suspect that if the City were to change its plans to a competitive bid the howling would be far louder, because it would take far more than the proposed fee to secure one of the coveted 25 permitted licenses. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one - though as I've said I don't consider myself qualified to really have an educated opinion as to whether the proposed fees are set at exactly the right amount and I agree with those who have proposed prorating the fee based on how many days per week the truck wishes to be permitted to operate in Hoboken. You and I generally agree on most things but even disagreeing with you has been fun. Have a great thanksgiving.
greenhaven November 23, 2011 at 10:36 PM
Frank - the food trucks can park there - they just can't operate a commercial business there. Just like you can't operate a commercial business out of a property zoned residential. Of course, someone who doesn't get the distinction between tax rate and tax levy obviously misses alot of things. And not only did I not miss my econ 101 classes - I taught a few. But it doesn't take a background in economics to know that parking your car and running a business out of your car are not the same.
Rory Chadwick November 23, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Owen I agree with you 100% and for the last 6 months i've been going door to door talking to my fellow business owners and expressing the very same thing. It is foolish for any of us topark on Washington St when the city offer us $5 all day parking at their garages. Owen, not sure if you live here and like the trucks or own a truck and if you can inform me, I would appreciate it but unfortunately my words sometimes fall on deaf ears, there is nothing I can do to force these people to move. I can only offer the benefits of parking not parking on Washington Street. Owen, allow me to give you a case in point for a second ok? Robongyi is a sushi place in Hoboken on Washington between 5th and 6th streets on Wash St. I've asked the drivers who deliver to not live out of their cars and disregard the meters numerous occasions. I've asked them to go green and ditch the cars and use bikes, they have 5 drivers and i was met with swears, middle fingers and one guy tried to attack me and I was merely trying to be reasonable. They nor do any places that deliver really need cars, NYC been using bikes for 50 years and it works. I've spoken with my council members about this too. We as a community can not overnight fix everything and what you are mentioning I assure you is and has been in the works.
Rory Chadwick November 23, 2011 at 10:52 PM
If Adam Sobel from Cinnamon Snail is reading this, if they do allow you to park on Washington Street, I will pay you $1000 toward your fees to park in front of my store to serve your customers 1 day a week. You have to do it for 4 hours a day. In fact if the ordinance passes and the food trucks will be allowed to use Washington St, every retail store owner should offer the same. Ok, we lose a few spots but at the same time we will get so many new customers in our stores. I am not within 100 feet of a place that sells food, I am 164 feet away.
Anthony November 23, 2011 at 10:55 PM
SO basically the food truck owners came and voiced some ligitimate concerns about the ordinance as written and Sacs told everyone my way or the highway and dismissed their concerns. That is fine, his #1 concern is parking rules, the council ladies and men are the ones that have to answer to the people, i trust after the public hearing the council knows this needs to go back for revisions.
MadisonMonroe November 23, 2011 at 10:56 PM
This ordinance bothers me for many reasons, including the selective nature of the enforcement. Somehow a truck that takes money in exchange for food is not as worthy as a truck that takes money in exchange for construction work, for instance. Nearly every day of the week our residential streets are lined with out-of-town trucks owned by renovation and construction companies. They are there all day, often parked on the resident-only side of the street. They may move for street cleaning, but I don't see them getting hassled by the parking authority for violating the four-hour limit. Have you ever seen a boot on a construction vehicle? A homeowner can buy a visitor tag at $5/day, which would come to $1,300/year for M-F. We know that's not happening all the time. As for Mr. Stuiver's question-- are there provisions for part-time vendors? -- I don't think Mr. Sacs or the council members who voted for this ordinance gave much thought at all as to how the implementation would take place. Did Mr. Sacs study the market at all before he unleashed this lunacy on the city? Did he realize that most of the trucks are here only a couple of days a week? And he's still defending the GPS? To track down illegal taco sales? He and the Mayor are turning this city into a laughingstock along with the full support of the Council of Duh.
Rory Chadwick November 23, 2011 at 11:13 PM
"Nearly every day of the week our residential streets are lined with out-of-town trucks owned by renovation and construction companies. They are there all day, often parked on the resident-only side of the street. They may move for street cleaning, but I don't see them getting hassled by the parking authority for violating the four-hour limit. Have you ever seen a boot on a construction vehicle?" These construction people are serving the tax payers and have ascertained " no parking posters from this time to that time by the property holder". So they may park in the spot as long as the property owners does not report it. Now if the person is doing light construction and does not have the permits for the spots, they are at risk for being booted.
mcgato November 23, 2011 at 11:17 PM
I like the food trucks in town, and I know that the present rules on these types of enterprises are outdated. I have no issue with the within 100 feet of a B&M establishment. I think that there should be firm rules about where they can and cannot park. The proposed fee is way too high. I believe that it will drive most of the trucks out of town (though one or two may hang around due to a wink-wink understanding that the police won't bother them). These trucks tend to either be small business people trying to see if their concept will work or a business serving a very small niche market. The Taco Truck deemed their concept worthy of opening a B&M store. The Cinnamon Snail could never be a B&M store in this town, because it serves a very small niche market. I like encouraging small businesses, whether they aspire higher or just like making a handful of people happy. The no trucks within 50 feet of each other is just silly. The GPS requirement is outright idiocy. I see the food trucks as adding to the community, they should be encouraged, but there should be limits. I live uptown, and there are very few places to just grab a quick bite to eat. There are lots of sit down places that I frequent, but a lot of times I just want something quick to take home and eat while I watch TV or start the laundry. The food trucks fit that bill, so I welcome them.
Redrider765 November 23, 2011 at 11:45 PM
Rory - the food trucks are serving the taxpayers. Who do you think their customers are?
Rory Chadwick November 23, 2011 at 11:49 PM
Fixing the house is a need, buying a taco is a choice
Redrider765 November 23, 2011 at 11:59 PM
You want to see a hardship claim verified by the food trucks? How about a hardship claim verified by the B&M places before we impose a tax increase of 900% on the food trucks? How about they prove that their real estate taxes as a percent of sales is far higher than how much the food trucks pay already. Absent that, I say no tax increase at all. Have them prove the food trucks aren't paying enough and then we can talk about increasing taxes.
Redrider765 November 24, 2011 at 12:00 AM
100 foot from a B&M place will remove most food trucks from areas of Washington that have restaurants. No need to ban them everywhere on Washington. Just impose and enforce that 100 ft rule.
Redrider765 November 24, 2011 at 12:09 AM
Most of the repair and remodel jobs done in town are not at all needed. You don't need a new kitchen or bathroom, you do need to eat. Try again.
Redrider765 November 24, 2011 at 12:12 AM
The Taco Truck is a great example of a truck that will probably no longer be in Hoboken under the new fees. Let's look at the math. They currently are in town 1 night a week for 2-3 hours for dinner, sometimes a bit more often and sometimes they skip weeks here. Whenever they aren't here, they are in JC, the Meadowlands, various private vents and a few other locations like the High Line. If they have to pay a fee of $5K to be here 1 night a week, that works out to about $100 a week or $30-50 an hour for the right to sell tacos here. How many tacos do you think they need to sell to cover that? How likely do you think it will be that they just serve that dinner meal they currently serve uptown in JC instead? They are already there for lunch and dinner several times a week. One more night in JC w/ no $30-50/hour cost of a vendor permit is whole lot more appealing than paying that $5K vendor permit fee and selling tacos to a couple dozen customers over by the ferry after they get off from work.
franksinatra November 24, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Green -- every time you post you dig a deeper hole for yourself. i wouldn't let that get out about teaching economics. first, half the town runs businesses out of their houses and condos and apartments, zoning or no zoning. and so what? zoning laws that restrict what you can do with your own private property that you paid for are just as bad as new city laws aimed at driving one type of food business out of the city while coddling another type that happens to have Dawn's ear. Second, you seem to be one of those Dawn stooges who's in denial about how our taxes have risen so much since she took over. You really don't want to go there, but here goes. Dawn ran in 2009 promising a 25% cut in the taxes people pay -- not the levy; she never mentioned the word levy in her handouts -- and that's why i supported her. But after she took office she raised the municipal tax rates (which determine what we actually pay) 14.01% before finally reducing them this year. Still, municipal taxes remain 2.96% higher than the day she took office (instead of 25% lower). People can read their own tax bills. Throwing around talk of tax levies doesn't fool anyone except the small and shrinking band of Kool-Aid drinkers. Instead of fooling around with food trucks, Dawn, cut the damn taxes.
Rory Chadwick November 24, 2011 at 06:58 AM
I am curious but aside from Hoboken, what other towns are visited by the truckers? Jersey City is one, Morristown has to be a good choice, Princeton has to be good, Fort Lee, Englewood. Weehawken, the list could go on and on. If the ordinance does pass and people do have to leave wouldn't another town out of the hundreds in NJ suffice? I drive all over NJ and at many intersections I see vendors in the same spots every day 5 days a week, they must be doing good? What is it really about Hoboken that makes it so lucrative that you only want to be here 1 day a week? The business school I went to taught us you go where the $$$ are and if you go somewhere for one day then it can't possibly be that good can it. I understand and feel for the customers of the trucks but if you only come here one day couldn't it be logically thought up that you would just go to another town and replenish the lost customers?
David Mello November 25, 2011 at 10:18 PM
To the contrary, it will require enough changes and revisions to almost certainly take it back to first reading. I said so much to both Claire Moses and Ray Smith. See this article: http://www.hudsonreporter.com/view/full_story/16538372/article--Hoboken-food-truck-vendors-sound-off-on-proposed-new-law-?instance=up_to_the_minute_hoboken
cassandra November 26, 2011 at 08:56 AM
Amen! Where is PATCH's or 411's office?
Ian Rintel November 26, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Mr. Sinatra, Do you have any supporting documentation? Everything I can find shows that the municipal tax rate hike occurred before Ms. Zimmer had any control over it. Of the two most recent budgets the municipal rate went from 2.022 to 1.711. It seems like the Library Rate is now itemized (whereas prior to 2011 it was included in the municipal rate). Since our Library Rate is now 0.113, for comparitive purpose our municipal tax rate has gone down from 2.022 to 1.824 or 9.8%. The preceding years tax range change is almost zero (where did you see an increase in the rate between 2009 and 2010?). I wish the decrease were more. I would like to see Ms. Zimmer fulfill the larger tax cut she campaigned on - but at the same time I realize that for the first time in a long time Hoboken has a real budget. Hoboken isn't selling city assets to supplement revenues so taxes can be artificially low. Hoboken isn't under-budgeting and passing costs to future years. Hoboken is close to having a contract with the Fire Department. Hoboken has a contract with the Police Department for the first time in a long time. I voted for Ms. Zimmer - but I've told her I'm not loyal to her: I'm loyal to Hoboken. I will vote her until there is someone better. She's honest. She's hard working. Its only because she is not a particularly talented politician that people like you, Mr. Sinatra can get people to believe otherwise. She should hire Mr. Cammarano to teach her political skills!
HOBO87 November 26, 2011 at 07:44 PM
Interesting topic. The paid Zimmer bashers are doing their jobs. But it's interesting some pro-Zimmer people favor the higher fee and others don't, unlike most topics about city policy where they all agree. IMO, if the fee is really going to be as high as $5k/year, then it's misconceived to make it fixed regardless of demand and what % of the time a given truck spends in Hoboken. For that much money, it's reasonable and worthwhile to auction the desired number of permits and let the market determine what they are worth consistent with the trucks still serving the customers (perhaps more than $5k for a truck always in Hoboken, who knows?), as well as make them transferable/shareable. So, Cinammon Snail and Taco can get together to bid for a permit, it just has to be displayed on whichever of those truck is in town at a given time. OTOH if the proposal is just a sop to the restaurant owners to get rid of the trucks by overcharging them for parking... I generally support Zimmer, given the truly ugly alternatives at this point, but a proposal like this shows the liberal Demorcrat biases (in this case, anti-market anti-competition) of most reformers in Hoboken. It's the same reason they have limited interest in cutting the city govt and therefore taxes.
davidd November 26, 2011 at 11:28 PM
I agree that an auction would be best. However the complexities and cost involved might preclude it. Also the idea of sharing a permit should definitely be explored. OTOH the fee seems reasonable from a market standpoint, its is $12 a day (plus the exisitng $8 in quarters) for a parking space that would be still more expensive on the open market. I am willing to subsidize shoppers but day in and day out businesses not so much. I would like to see the distance from a brick and mortar restaurant reduced, I paced out 100 ft, a restaurant at either end of the block would mean a truck couldn't park on that block! I don't know where the could park in the SE corner of the city.
Hoboken Answer November 26, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Petro you are always full of nonsense and utter garbage about Hoboken and you are no Hoboken taxpayer. Stick to the diatribes passkey about the wonderful work Petro did looting the BoE. There's only one person pushing for cutting spending and taxes and it's Mayor Zimmer who has been consistent at doing so. You pal Frank Raia and the Russo-Mason crew are consistent in fighting against ALL those efforts. The police reorg being one big example that saved millions. You ain't fooling anyone. Tell us how Petro voted on that illegal Raia construction contract at HoLa. Let's hear about that!
Hobbs November 28, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Councilwoman Jen Giattino who is the Chairwoman of the City Council committee looking into this has a detailed letter posted on Mile Square View today.
franksinatra November 30, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Ian Rintel -- the numbers you quote for 2010 and 2011, with the 9.8% decrease, are the same ones I'm using. The rate for 2009 was 1.937, so a 4.4% increase for 2010. The rate for 2008 was 1.771, so that's a 9.4% increase for 2009. The supporting documentation you ask for is the rates listed on our property tax bills. You have the same documentation I have. I have never said that Dawn isn't hard-working and honest so I don't know what you mean when you say I'm getting people to believe otherwise. I generally agree with you and Hobo87 here--I will vote for her until there is someone better. Meantime, if she's going to get better herself, she needs tough, constructive criticism and a constant reminder of her campaign promises, not the fawning support she often gets from her diehard fans. Unfortunately, Hobo87 is completely correct with his comment that bears repeating here: "I generally support Zimmer, given the truly ugly alternatives at this point, but a proposal like this shows the liberal Democrat biases (in this case, anti-market anti-competition) of most reformers in Hoboken. It's the same reason they have limited interest in cutting the city govt and therefore taxes."

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