When it comes to the saga of Hermiston’s efforts to regulate mobile food vending, the Grateful Dead may have said it best: What a long, strange trip it’s been.
What began back in January with a suggestion by the Business Advisory Committee that the city look into adopting an ordinance regulating mobile food vendors culminated Monday night with the council voting to adopt such an ordinance.
The process, said Councilor George Anderson, was anything but “quick and dirty.” The council was first presented with a draft ordinance at its Feb. 25 meeting. An initial set of 16 regulations were drafted, some of which survived the nearly eight-month process, while others were either eliminated or significantly altered.
When it became clear that a consensus could not be quickly reached, a subcommittee was established to look further into the issue and seek public input. The subcommittee, consisting of Councilors Anderson, Manuel Gutierrez and John Kirwan, held a series of hearings before the Business Advisory Committee, the Planning Commission, the Hispanic Advisory Committee and the general public.
The end result is a nine-page document with 13 sections and numerous sub-sections outlining how mobile vendors can operate in Hermiston. The key components of the ordinance include the following:
• The nine current mobile food vendors have six months to obtain a mobile food vending license.
• The number of licenses will be fixed at the number issued after six months, meaning if only seven of the existing vendors apply for a license, then seven is the number of licenses that can be issued.
• Vendors may only operate from an approved location.
• Vendors must move from their approved location each night.
• The annual licensing fee is $500.
Prior to Monday night’s vote, Hispanic Advisory Committee Chairman Eddie de la Cruz expressed his support for the ordinance.
“This ordinance is really fair,” he said. “I’ve talked with a lot of the taco truck vendors and most of them are very content with this and feel they can comply with this. If I saw something that was unfair to the vendors, I would have been the first to say it’s not right.” De la Cruz did say he thought the $500 license fee was excessive, “but other than that, I support it 100 percent.”
Councilors also offered their thoughts on the ordinance prior to the vote. Anderson acknowledged the process took a long time, but said the issue was a complex one.
“About a year and half or two years ago, the city council was criticized for just passing things too easily and we certainly didn’t do that here,” he said. “I commend the committee and I commend the council for its patience on this, but these are important things. We have nine people out there that have businesses that are operating and some have been operating for a very long time. The heavy-handed and mean-spirited way to do it would have been to say we’re not going to allow any mobile vending. We didn’t do that. We struck a compromise with those people who are operating these businesses.”
Anderson said the compromise was that in exchange for a license to operate, mobile vendors would have to comply with requirements regulating appearances and safety standards.
“I think it was done with a lot of thought and concern and compassion for the people who are running the businesses, and also for the other citizens in the town in regards to appearance, being good neighbors and safety,” he said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done.”
Kirwan said the key to the whole process was public input.
“I think that the most valuable thing we did with this committee is we actually listened to the citizens of the community and we didn’t make a decision based on our own personal opinions,” he said. “We came up with a compromise that wasn’t easy for everybody to accept.”
Gutierrez said the entire effort to draft a mobile food vending ordinance was to benefit both the vendors and the community.
“We want to have a good community,” Gutierrez said. “The things we did were done with concern for the community.”
Mayor Dave Drotzmann thanked the subcommittee for its work in drafting the ordinance and said he was grateful for the council’s patience as well as the patience of the city administration and the public. In the end, he said, the city came up with an ordinance that is workable and fair to vendors.
“It sends a message that we care about our community and the businesses within it and that we want them to be successful and we want them to be an asset to our community and I think that’s a very powerful message,” Drotzmann said.
When the vote came, the ordinance passed unanimously.
“Well, there you go, Hermiston,” the mayor said afterward. “You now have an ordinance for mobile food vending.”