For the second time in just four months, the Pensacola City Council has voted down a food truck ordinance on a second and final reading, marking the latest development in more than three years of debate on the issue.
After approving an ordinance the month before, Council members voted in November to reject a proposed food truck ordinance after last-minute lobbying from downtown interests. In January, council members passed a more restrictive ordinance on first reading, but balked again Thursday night as the rules came up for a final vote.
In the end, the proposed ordinance was poisoned by an amendment which would have prohibited food trucks within the Pensacola Historic District. That restriction would have been in addition to the ordinance’s prohibition of food trucks on South Palafox Street and within 200 feet of restaurants. After more than an hour of debate, the historic district amendment passed on a 5-3 vote, but several council members expressed their frustration at how convoluted the issue had become. Council members split the final vote on the ordinance 4-4, with council members Charles Bare, Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Larry B. Johnson, and Sherri Myers voting no.
In advance of Thursday night’s vote, lobbyists for downtown interests emailed and called council members asking them to reject to proposed ordinance. Travis Peterson, a lobbyist for the Downtown Improvement Board, distributed a flyer titled “Keep Food Trucks Fair,” which claimed the proposed ordinance didn’t adequately protect historic, residential, and downtown districts. The flyer suggested that the city should allow food trucks to operate “only at specific locations,” citing Charleston as an example, which allows food trucks only in 17 specific parking spaces, the rights to which are auctioned off each year. Myers criticized what she called “high-powered lobbying” leading up to the vote, and Johnson specifically called out Peterson for his efforts to derail the ordinance.
As before, several downtown business owners and food truck opponents addressed council members, arguing that brick-and-mortar businesses needed to be “protected.” Myers disagreed. “I don’t think that it’s the role of the government to guarantee businesses success,” she 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 this week by UWF officials.
Perhaps no council member was more exasperated than Johnson, a longtime food truck supporter who has invited trucks to do business at the Azalea Cocktail Lounge, which he owns. “There’s not an army of food trucks that’s going to converge on Downtown Pensacola,” he said. “There’s just not, guys.”
It’s not readily apparent what happens next on the issue of food trucks. As was the case two months ago, the ordinance that was rejected tonight is effectively dead, and it’s up to a council member to pick up the issue and introduce another ordinance. Meanwhile, with no regulations in place, food trucks are free to operate anywhere in the City of Pensacola, so long as they park in a legal parking space.