Hermiston grapples with mobile vendor regulations

Hermiston grapples with mobile vendor regulations
Hermiston business owner Mitch Meyers addresses his concerns about mobile vendors during the Feb. 25 Hermiston City Council meeting.

Hermiston City Councilor George Anderson likened the city’s efforts to agree on a set of regulations for mobile vendors to herding cats. He may have been right, for the more the council discussed proposed regulations, the more unsettled the issue became.

Mobile vendors took up the entire work session the council held prior to its Feb. 25 city council meeting. Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan opened the session by outlining proposed regulations for mobile vendors. The following are among the proposed regulations:

  • All mobile vendors must get a permit from the city (the permit will cost $100)
  • Vendors must have written permission from the property owner to operate at a specific location
  • Permits are valid for 180 days and not renewable for the same site in the same year
  • Permits are allowed only in commercial zones
  • Operating hours are limited from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Among the exemptions to the proposed regulations are vendors operating at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds during fair week, nonprofit organizations and vendors operating for 14 days or less. Click for a complete list of the city’s proposed regulations.

The councilors also discussed recommendations from the city’s Business Advisory Committee which included eliminating the 14-day exemption and making the permit valid for 90 days instead of 180.

Councilor Lori Davis recommended eliminating the commercial zone-only requirement, indicating that many mobile food vendors serve industrial sites, as well.

Councilor John Kirwan recommended extending the allowable operating hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Anderson suggested the possibility of grandfathering in mobile vendors who have a long-established presence in the community.

“Some of these people have been here for quite some period of time,” he said. Anderson, however, also expressed his concerns for brick-and-mortar businesses which face competition from mobile vendors.

“I have a problem with taco wagons competing with businesses that have to buy land or rent land,” he said. “I’m having a hard time with this.”

The issue carried over into the regular city council meeting when Hermiston resident Mitch Meyers, co-owner of Nookie’s Bistro & Spirits, took to the microphone to talk about inequities faced by businesses which have to compete against mobile vendors.

“When I see KFC, A&W and Fudruckers fail while all these vendors operate unfettered, I have a problem with that,” Meyers said.

Meyers said he looked int[o the background of eight mobile vendors and told the council that he found that seven of them were not registered in either Oregon or Washington’s Business Registry and that none of them had a commercial liability insurance policy.

“What happens if someone buys food from one these vendors and gets sick and dies,” Meyers asked. Meyers said his own research also indicates that seven of the eight vendors have multiple trucks in multiple locations and use employees to operate them, yet they are not paying employee taxes.

“It’s just not fair and equal,” he said.

Mayor Dave Drotzmann said the city council will continue to examine the issue and seek further input prior to taking any action on regulating mobile vendors.