Tomorrow night, the Pensacola City Council will take up a pair of competing food truck ordinances, and — for crying out loud — we’re begging them to pass one of them.
It’s been more than two years since the City of Pensacola started debating regulations for food trucks, and they’ve left entrepreneurs in limbo. Contrary to the common misconception, food trucks are completely legal in Pensacola right now. It’s the uncertainty surrounding potential regulations which has kept most food trucks from venturing into the city limits.
Some have said that allowing food trucks isn’t fair to downtown restaurant owners, who have invested their time, money, and sweat into making Downtown Pensacola the vibrant place where food trucks now want to be. Others have suggested relegating food trucks to designated zones far from any restaurants with which they could potentially compete.
Sorry, but that’s not how capitalism works. The role of government is not to protect established businesses from competition or to prioritize one class of business owners over another. We live in a free market economy. Imagine if, when Netflix came on to the scene, video rental stores had asked the city to ban such businesses. Imagine if the newspaper had asked the city to block residents’ access to Craigslist in order to protect the investments it had made in its classifieds section.
In any case, food truck opponents are missing the bigger picture. Food trucks aren’t going to take over downtown and run every brick-and-mortar restaurant out of business. We know that because Pensacola’s far from the first city to face this issue. Cities like Miami, Portland, and Austin, which have embraced food trucks, haven’t exactly imploded. In such cities, food trucks have actually increased foot traffic and reinvigorated food scenes with their often-innovative offerings.
Critics are looking at this issue the wrong way. Instead of worrying about protecting the businesses we have at the expense of new ones, we should be imagining a city where our growth gives us room for both.
As we reported last week, the two ordinances before the City Council are very similar. Both would ban food trucks from a portion of Palafox Street, where many restaurants are located and on-street parking is scarce. Both would require food trucks to provide trashcans for customers, and both would prohibit them from placing tables and chairs in the right-of-way or on sidewalks. That said, we prefer and support Councilman Larry B. Johnson’s proposal, which includes several key safety provisions to ensure food trucks don’t block stop signs and driveways. Councilman Johnson’s ordinance would also defer to the city’s existing special events permitting process when it comes to food truck rallies, instead of creating an additional step in the bureaucratic process.
Johnson’s ordinance is a common sense compromise which could and should have been passed two years ago. Instead, some food truck entrepreneurs have opted to set up shop in friendlier places beyond the city limits, like Warrington. Making Pensacola a “business-friendly” city has long been a favorite talking point of city leaders. Maybe we should start acting like it.
It’s time for Pensacola to be a city which embraces innovation and celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s time for government to get out of the way and support new business rather than impede it. It’s time for Pensacola to welcome food trucks.