"Let's make sure we all understand what the rules are before we change them," said Denver City Council president Chris Nevitt, after a council committee had been discussing the rules now regulating this city's food trucks for over an hour. "Are you confident you know exactly what the rules are?"
No one in the crowded room -- which was packed with a who's who of food truck operators -- raised a hand. And that included the councilmembers sitting around the table. "I'm not seeing a lot of hands," Nevitt said.
Nine councilmembers had come together to consider a draft proposal for a city Food Truck Guide -- a new document that tries to bring together all the rules affecting the operation of food trucks in this city. Truck operators currently have to work through up to five Denver agencies if they want to take to the road: Excise and Licenses, Environmental Health, Public Works (which handles streets and parking), Planning (which oversees zoning) and Parks (if the trucks want to go there).
But as the councilmembers questioned representatives of those agencies, it quickly became clear that it would take more than a draft document to make the rules clear.
Some of those rules, including one that keeps trucks from parking downtown, date back to 1994. Others were revised ten years ago, when zoning adopted a regulation that prohibits trucks from parking in one place for more than four hours; that switch targeted loncheras. Yet another rule prevents trucks from parking within 200 feet of each other -- which would make all the Justice League events that started last summer illegal.
"I appreciate agencies coming together," co-chair Doug Linkhart said. "There's been quite an uproar. Part of that uproar was caused by lack of clarity." The uproar largely focused on the Denver Cupcake Truck; the owners had grounded their two trucks because the city's rules were so confusing.
By the time that story broke, in December, over 150 mobile food operations had been licensed in Denver -- making gourmet food trucks the biggest business trend of 2010 in this city.
And they're trying to operate under a set of outdated, confusing, at times contradictory regulations. "There's a consensus that we are sufficiently incoherent," noted co-chair Michael Hancock.
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"This isn't a simple fix that's going to happen in a couple of meetings," said councilmember Carla Madison.
And she'll be holding a lot of those meetings: Madison volunteered to head a task force -- one that includes food truck owners, as well as reps from restaurants, downtown and neighborhoods -- that will not only work to clarify the current rules, but also propose some rule changes that will keep this city's food truck business on a roll.
In the meantime, you can read the draft of the Food Truck Guide -- the same old rules in a new format -- here.