Food trucks are emblematic of the recent surge in entrepreneurial activity in Baton Rouge and have been welcomed by the community with open arms, hearts, minds, and mouths. Naturally, with all of the other problems in Baton Rouge, Councilman and restaurateur Smokie Bourgeois believes additional regulation of food trucks is a compelling concern for the community. Councilman Bourgeois, who never seems to find his interests conflicted, is proposing a modification to Title 11, Chapter 28 of the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances dealing with parking specifically targeting the practices of food trucks. These proposals are, at best, unnecessary.
Before discussing the merits of the proposal, it is important to note that food truck vendors do not appear to be opposed to regulation, but to regulation for regulation’s sake. For example, all food trucks receive formal food and health inspections. This is clearly in the interest of the public good and helps to keep customers safe and food truck owners in business. Hell, Jared Loftus, one of the masterminds behind Ninja Snowballs and Taco de Paco, has welcomed the idea of posting proof of health inspections on the trucks. Food truck owners don’t seem to be concerned with that type of regulation (the meaningful kind), but rather the type of regulation Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would enact.
The first regulation called for in Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would require food truck owners to secure written permission from property owners before parking their trucks to do business. Currently, the Code of Ordinances of the City of Baton Rouge, Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:416 and 11:438 (one for the city, the other for the Parish) prohibits vehicles from being parked “[u]pon privately owned property without the prior authorization and consent of the owner thereof.” The law is already on the books, why is there a need to add the additional caveat of securing this permission in writing and why does it only apply to food trucks? Seriously, does anyone believe this isn’t intended to stifle competition to Bourgeois’ restaurant?
The second regulation would prohibit a food truck from parking in a manner that would orient the serving window toward the street. Due to the nature of the business, food trucks share some similarities to the taxi industry, at least with respect to curb safety. From examining the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances, there appears to be no law on the books requiring taxi operators to only allow passengers to enter the taxi on the passenger side of the vehicle, although this would clearly be the safer alternative. Instead, taxi operators and passengers have organically come to an unregulated agreement that this is the best option, food trucks should be allowed to operate under the same allowance. Beyond that, let’s consider the anatomy of a food truck. In its natural habitat, a food truck is parked in a metered parking spot in the direction of traffic due to previously existing traffic laws (Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:418 and Section 11:440 in case anyone is interested). Because of this mandated orientation, food trucks have their serving windows on the passenger side of the vehicle and away from traffic since customers are not going to hang out in the street waiting for food. No new laws are needed here.
While all can appreciate Councilman Bourgeois’ professed “concern” for food trucks, food truck patrons, and property owners, the City of Baton Rouge has laws on the books that address the intent of these regulations. The Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department are currently challenged with a rash of murders and other crimes within our city. Does anyone really think they need the additional duty of enforcing unneeded and duplicative laws? Or is it more likely that Councilman Bourgeois is representing his own interests as the owner of a restaurant in an area that has quickly cottoned to the concept of the moveable feast?
EDIT: This post seems to have taken off pretty well. If you, like me, think this thing is ridiculous and veering toward abuse of office, please let the entire council know by sending them an email (email@example.com) in addition to sending your individual Council member an email.
N.B. Some may notice the similarities between this post and a letter which may or may not appear in the Advocate within the next few days. After reading an attempt by a food truck fan to support the cause (which I frankly felt was really off-target), I felt compelled to draft a letter to the editor and sent it to the Baton Rouge Mobile Food Vendors Association for use as the basis of a positional letter. You will note that I am a little more pointed in my critique of Councilman Bourgeois’ intentions in this post than in the letter.