Food Truck Debate Ongoing, City Council Divided

Mark Chesler, Local resident

Prepared remarks delivered at Feb. 2, 2015 Oberlin City Council and Feb. 4, 2015 Oberlin Planning Commission meetings.

To the Editors:

On Oct. 22, 2014, and Nov. 5, 2014, an obstinate Oberlin Planning Commission tabled adoption of the draft mobile food truck vehicle regulations prepared by the city of Oberlin’s professional planning staff.

Lacking a scintilla of supporting empirical evidence or comparative data, Oberlin Planning Commission member Bryan Stubbs asserted the proposed nominal $500 annual food truck vehicle permit fee would pose an insuperable obstacle to prospective entrepreneurs. An explanatory covering memo from Oberlin Planning Director Gary Boyle, attached to the draft mobile food truck vehicle regulations, circulated to Oberlin Planning Commission members prior to the Oct. 22 Oberlin Planning Commission meeting, stipulated the proposed nominal $500 annual food truck vehicle permit fee was based on projected Oberlin municipal staff time invested in reviewing and vetting food truck vehicle applications.

Akron levies a robust annual license fee of $1,750, in addition to a $225 application fee, on food truck vehicles operating on two streets in the heart of the Rubber City’s biomedical corridor. Akron’s adopted food truck vehicle ordinance establishes a buffer zone prohibiting food truck vehicles from operating, idling or parking within 50 feet of a residence, 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, 750 feet of a park and 1,000 feet of a school. The summer food truck vehicle fee at Akron’s Lock 3 municipal amphitheater is pegged at $1,200.

Akron City Council President Jeff Fusco, chair of an ad hoc, select committee tasked for nearly a year with an evaluation of the potential costs, ramifications and alleged benefits of food trucks, told the Akron Beacon Journal (May 19, 2014), “I am proud of the investment we have made in downtown. It’s our responsibility to protect and not give away our downtown.”

According to the minutes of the Sept. 3, 2014 Oberlin Planning Commission, following attendance at the Aug. 13, 2014 Oberlin Business Partnership forum for local businesses on the potential impact of mobile food vending operations, “[Boyle] advised that … most businesses did not support mobile vendors during business hours for various reasons including the likelihood of impact on parking spaces, litter, etc.”

Preaching to the choir at an Aug. 2014 conclave of self-styled environmental activists in Yellow Springs, Ohio, novice Oberlin Planning Commission member Ellen Mavrich — a vocal advocate of laissez-faire municipal food truck policy — characterized the Pyrrhic legal ploys of the anti-fracking movement as the functional equivalent of 1960s civil rights lunch counter sit-ins (“using the law to sit at the lunch counter”). If the hyper-caffeinated food truck operators are allowed to leech off the small town public square, the proverbial last Formica lunch counter will be consigned for posterity to the sub-basement of the Smithsonian.

–Mark Chesler

Local resident