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Downtown restaurateurs mobilizing for food truck meeting

Second public hearing for proposed rules in Auburn nears
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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When the Auburn City Council meets on Oct. 22, it will hold a second public hearing on proposed food truck regulations and some area business owners are hoping for a more competitive food fight this time around. After just two of nearly a dozen commenters voiced full support for the ordinance that would ban food trucks from Downtown and Old Town, the Council chose to delay its vote at its Sept. 24 meeting, create a more lenient alternate set of rules and seek more information – including more input from the business community. Auburn restaurateur Eric Nordby said he is doing all he can to ensure those favoring a food-truck ban come vocalize their stance. Nordby, who works seven days a week between running Little Belgium Deli and Beer Bar, Hilda’s Bakery and World Pub, said he’s taking a day off this week to get the word out. He said the city failed to properly notify the businesses that would be affected by the proposed rules, thus the small turnout at the first public hearing. The Council’s decision could weigh heavily on the future of small businesses in Auburn, Nordby said. “I think the City Council is here to protect the economic status of our city, not destroy it,” he said. “And what they’re proposing will destroy this town.” A month after the first public hearing, the Council is set to hear another healthy helping of debate, and this time they’ll be faced with even more options as they’ll be weighing two versions of rules for private property against each other. They’ll also discuss an ordinance for food trucks in the public right of way. “My own personal view is there is a way to craft reasonable requirements on mobile food trucks that provide more food choices for Auburn residents and visitors while at the same time ensuring a level playing field with the brick-and-mortar restaurants,” Mayor Kevin Hanley said. The original set of private property rules bans the trucks from both historic districts, while “Alternate A” would just keep them out of Old Town. Nordby wants them banished, period. “We’re barely getting on right now. More competition is not the answer,” he said. “It’s just not.” Even among brick-and-mortar business owners, opinions come in various flavors. Dion Isaacson, co-owner of Depoe Bay Coffee Co. in Downtown Auburn, said the “us vs. them” mentality the debate has created is misguided. Maria’s Mexican Tacos parks its truck next door to Depoe Bay at Best American Tires & Wheels on High Street. Current regulations allow mobile food vendors to operate 30 minutes on private property before they must relocate. Both new versions of the ordinance increase the time limit to two hours. Although he said it “irritated” him that Maria’s Mexican Tacos parked there without first talking to Depoe Bay, Isaacson does not support an ordinance that bans food trucks, which he says create competition that is good for the area. “(The new rules) have to be where I don’t like it, and it’s got to be where they don’t like it. Then that’s cool,” Isaacson said. “I’m not going to get everything I want, and they’re not getting everything they want. All in all, they may end up making it better downtown. Who knows?” He said he would like to see both districts have ordinances written to fit their specific needs – not just ban them in Old Town and allow them in Downtown. Isaacson said there should be a limit on the number of permits that would be issued on a street, and he fears that High Street is the only place where food trucks would be issued permits. “Find out how many it would support without killing off the (business),” he said. “I mean, we’ve made it through five years of recession and now the city is not being our friend and throwing us behind the eight ball again. “This recession is not over. Does it look like I’m rolling in customers? We’re about to start cutting back our hours.” Nordby said that restaurants in the city are hurting more than people realize. One food or coffee truck operating outside Hilda’s Bakery would “guarantee” that it go out of business, he said. Supporters of food trucks said at the first public hearing that the mobile vendors are innovative, create variety and healthy competition – one of the facets of a free-market economy. “This is a great opportunity for Auburn to lead because there is a revolution, a renaissance going on with food trucks and you’re going to see more, not less,” said Bob Snyder at the Sept. 24 public hearing. Snyder was the lone member of the planning commission to vote against the proposed rules at its Sept. 4 meeting. Nordby said if they are allowed in Auburn, food trucks can come from out of the region and cherry pick customers during high-traffic weekends. He also questions how the city would enforce the ordinance. “That’s not our police department’s job to be chasing food trucks. They have real jobs to do and I think it’s disrespectful to even ask them,” he said. “The health departments, they don’t work on the weekends unless they get a special call, and that’s county not city. They’re not going to come down here and check. I guarantee the City Councilmen aren’t going to be checking their licenses. “So it’s just going to be a free for all.” Jim Bril, president of the Downtown Business Association, said the ordinance should cover all mobile businesses, not just food trucks. “In other cities around the country, the great food truck races are on and it’s a cool thing,” Bril said. “But I’m not sure we want it in our historical business district.” Hanley said the city attorney explored the legality of imposing a buffer zone between restaurants and food trucks. It can’t be imposed for the sake of “economic protectionism” but could be allowed in order to discourage food truck customers from using the tables and restrooms of nearby businesses, he said. “Hopefully we can put together a very reasonable food truck ordinance at this second hearing,” he said. “I think it’s certainly possible. We’ll see.” Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews PROPOSED REGULATIONS The Auburn City Council will be reviewing two versions of a new ordinance for food trucks on private property at its Oct. 22 meeting. Below are the key points. Original rules Restricted areas: Downtown and Old Town Allowed on unpaved lots? No Business Improvement District fee: None Multiple vendors allowed per lot? Yes Alternative A Restricted areas: Old Town Allowed on unpaved lots? Yes Business Improvement District fee: $400 Multiple vendors allowed per lot? No Sales tax: Owner must sign a written agreement that ensures they will properly report their sales tax from food truck earnings into the county pool for transactions that do not have a point of sale – a portion of which filters back to the city. Signage: A sign must be placed on the truck discouraging patrons from using nearby restrooms unless they make a purchase from that establishment. Both versions Use permit fees: Food trucks are required to obtain a use permit for each location. The processing fee is $481, but that can cover multiple permits if they are all requested at once. Hours of operation: Two hours at any one location before moving