The special committee looking into easing Akron’s ban on food trucks operating on public property held its first meeting last week. Chairman Jeff Fusco, an at-large member of the City Council, promises a careful, thorough examination of how other cities have acted, how food trucks might affect downtown, particularly its restaurants, and how new rules would be enforced, before making recommendations.
That’s fair. Akron has invested too much in redeveloping the city’s center to rush forward without looking at all angles. As Fusco correctly points out, downtown is still evolving, its various elements in a sometimes delicate balance. He expects the process to take at least two months.
The six-member committee — which includes neither restaurateurs nor food truck operators, intended to avoid infighting — also must take care that both sides in the dispute over food trucks are kept informed about the committee’s work and have a chance to comment. Suzie Graham, the executive director of the Downtown Akron Partnership, sits on the committee. The partnership includes downtown restaurants opposed to pleas by food truck owners for expanded opportunities.
Food truck owners got rolling, too, last week announcing the formation of a new organization, the Greater Akron Food Truck Coalition. They released a letter, sent to the City Council, from the Institute for Justice, a Washington-area public interest law firm with a libertarian bent. As part of a national initiative, the firm has successfully challenged restrictive vending laws in other cities, arguing that local ordinances going beyond issues such as health and safety amount to unlawful protectionism for bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
While downtown restaurant owners see the situation as a zero-sum game, food trucks bleeding away customers, the committee should keep an open mind, considering, for example, that restaurants and food trucks might well appeal to different customers. In the end, food trucks could play a positive role in helping to attract more people into downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, improving the business climate for everyone and adding to the city’s quality of life.