Food for thought

Good thing January has five Mondays, otherwise council members wouldn’t have stumbled out of last week’s meeting until the break of dawn. Tonight’s meeting is a continuation of last week’s meeting that Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt called time on after midnight. Fortunately for all of us, he had committed to participate in the homeless census that mustered in the middle of the night, enabling the rest of us who have beds to sleep in them for several hours before getting up for work again.

The items left for tonight should engender much public input and council debate. The quickest item on the agenda is likely to be Roger Stancil’s financial update. What will really bring out the commenters will be the next three topics: whether to allow food trucks, how the Good Neighbor Plan for the men’s shelter on Homestead Road is coming, and the developer’s latest iteration of the Charterwood proposal.

Council should be prepared to vote tonight on the food truck issue, which has strong voices for and against. Some of the strongest voices opposed to food trucks – downtown restaurant owners – have the least amount of time to hang out in council chambers waiting for a turn to be heard. Here’s where Twitter might be useful: Town attorney Ralph Karpinos could invoke a Twitter break in which council members would turn on their smartphones and scroll through tweets from people whose jobs are the busiest during the evening hours that council is in session.

The town is proposing a get-tough strategy of making food truck regulations part of the Town Code, instead of the Land Use Management Ordinance, thus enabling swift enforcement and immediate citations and fines. The permits fees are still ridiculously low – $118 per vendor, plus a $50 privilege license, and $118 per property owner to allow the vendor to operate on private property. Fees that low make it economically feasible for me to sell my famous World Peace cookies out of the back of our Honda Civic. An additional $600 annual fee paid by vendors to cover the cost of monthly inspections by the town hopefully may discourage amateurs from entering the food-truck field.

And if restaurant proprietors can’t take off work to filibuster in council chambers tonight, and council approves the extra competition from food trucks, let’s demand council members will go restaurant-to-restaurant along Franklin Street to apologize – and order a meal.
– Nancy Oates

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7 Comments

  1. Mark Marcoplos

     /  January 30, 2012

    Requiring higher fees to discourage people from pursuing a food vending enterprise is elitist and makes it difficult for people of limited means, including young people in many cases, to start a small business. This is the same sort of elitist attitude that many folks like to complain about when it comes to housing and the cost-of-living in Chapel Hill. Food trucks are a sign of our evolving economy as it adjusts to new realities. We should allow these changes to occur and let the marketplace adjust. Local small business activity like this is what Adam Smith was actually writing about, not the perverted corporate capitalism of today.

  2. Joe

     /  January 30, 2012

    Mark, I haven’t read anybody trying to discourage people from “pursuing a food vending enterprise”. What I have read, is that those people who wish to “pursue a food vending enterprise” need to pay the associated costs with doing so.

    Or, to turn the argument around, perhaps we should consider dropping all fees and permits required to build in Orange County? These fees are certainly much more onerous than the ones being discusses for those “pursuing a food vending enterprise” and contribute much more to the cost of living in this area than any food truck fees could.

  3. Mark Marcoplos

     /  January 30, 2012

    You just read Nancy’s pitch for discouraging food entrepeneurs. Not sure why you don’t think this qualifies as “discouragement”.

    I’m ambivalent about building codes & related eexpenses. I actullay believe it could be privatized, but that is a 2 pitcher of beer conversation.

    My original point was in support of not adding local governmental protection of select businesses, without understanding the consequences.

  4. Mark Marcoplos

     /  January 30, 2012

    Just re-read your post & I wonder if current restaraunts are now paying the full associated costs of their impact. It’s a valid point that you raise. Who will provide the facts we need to answer that question?

  5. Chris Jones

     /  January 31, 2012

    Mark – fair question, and I’m curious what you mean by “full associated costs.” On a back of a napkin list, without putting much thought into it, a restaurant in Chapel Hill (or the landlord during the upfit process) pays: permitting and inspection fees during upfit, hook-up fees to OWASA, annual business license, annual privelege license to NC ABC (if they serve alcohol), payroll tax, property tax (usually passed thru from landlord), sales tax, unemployment insurance, workers comp. To me, that sounds like a lot of associated costs covered . . . curious if you’re implying more?

  6. Nancy Oates

     /  January 31, 2012

    And don’t forget the commercial garbage collection fees they pay as well.

  7. Joe

     /  January 31, 2012

    Let’s not forget commercial recycling fees, too.

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