The food truck debate rages on: Council votes down ordinance once again

Tom Moore

Contributing Writer

 Food trucks were voted down again at Thursday’s City Council meeting. Some food trucks, including Nomadic Eats, were temporarily allowed at City Hall on weekends during the month of January. Photo courtesy of Nomadic Eats Facebook Page.

Food trucks were voted down again at Thursday’s City Council meeting. Some food trucks, including Nomadic Eats, were temporarily allowed at City Hall on weekends during the month of January.
Photo courtesy of Nomadic Eats Facebook Page.

The war rages on. The City Council continues to debate. The community holds its collective breath, and at least 50 local entrepreneurs wait to purchase their licenses to open shop and start hawking their respective wares. Now in its third year, the debate about food trucks in Pensacola is still a hot topic.

Thursday night’s City Council 4-4 stalemate vote did nothing to alleviate the tensions between the proponents and opponents to what has turned into one of the hottest, longest-running, most controversial ordinances in the Pensacola City Council.

Randy Russell, the owner of food truck Nomadic Eats that operates at Pensacola State College, said, “This is really a hard business. On a very good day I do $300 to $400 dollars of business. That’s me being busy and working really hard.”

The last time the Pensacola City Council voted in January, it approved the ordinance on its first reading. It needed only to approve it once more in a final vote for the ordinance to be passed. However, the council could not muster the five votes needed.

Many community leaders have weighed in on issue, including University of West Florida’s Vice President for University Advancement Brendan Kelly.

In an interview Thursday with WEAR-TV Channel Three reporter Jackalyn Kovac, Kelly said he would like to see the city adopt a system echoing what other cities with historic cities have done. “Part of the investments we’ve made in downtown Pensacola and our mission as a historic trust, is to preserve what makes the fabric of a historic district special. And that is to have a place that doesn’t have all the trappings of modern day life associated with it.”

Kelly is not alone in his opposition. Many others, including local business owners, oppose the food trucks, because they believe the trucks will cause unsightly traffic in the downtown area.

“If the trucks proliferate, they will damage the brick and mortar, property tax-paying restaurants and be a blight on the great streetscape and charming ambiance we now have,” said Wilmer Mitchell, president of Seville Quarter.

“Those of us who have worked for years developing the area and taken the financial risks necessary to buy the land and build the buildings, and who pay major property taxes and license fees every year, should never have to face an ordinance which would permit competitors with little stake in the game to drive up, park near us and compete with us from a free space on the streets we helped make popular.”

In defense of food truck operators, Russell said, “I don’t think we pose much of a threat to the brick and mortars. Not at $300 to $500 a day.”

“I don’t like any hasty decisions and sometimes important decisions take time,” Kelly told the Pensacola News Journal. “So whatever time it takes to make the right policies for this city and where we are trying to go makes the most sense to me.” (Taken from a PNJ story on Feb. 11, 2016.)

Councilwoman Sherri Myers did not go along with the views of the opponents. She was particularly opposed to the idea that local business owners and residents somehow needed “protection” from the food trucks.

“I don’t think that it’s the role of the government to guarantee businesses success,” Myers said.

Johnson and Myers both also called out the University of West Florida Historic Trust for its last-minute objections to the ordinance.

“As much as this has been in the press, it concerns me,” Myers said, referring to the concerns raised only last week by UWF officials.

“I don’t think anyone is opposed to the business per se,” said Mike Guildy, who lives in the historic district downtown near Seville. “I think the ultimate goal of the council should be to find a place for the food trucks to operate and dedicate that place where they want to come.”