Subcommittee Zeroes in on Food Vendors

Mobile vendor subcom
Hermiston City Councilors Manuel Gutierrez, left, George Anderson, center, and John Kirwan begin the task of trying to regulate mobile food vendors in Hermiston during a subcommittee meeting Monday night.

The city of Hermiston’s ongoing effort to regulate mobile vendors resumed Monday night with a consensus to focus its attention on four key areas, chief among them limiting the number of vendors that can legally operate within the city limits.

The city council’s subcommittee on mobile vendors met for the first time just prior to Monday night’s regular city council meeting. The group, consisting of council members George Anderson, Manuel Gutierrez and John Kirwan, spent the good portion of an hour addressing the city’s concerns as well as what areas to focus on.

In the end, the subcommittee decided to focus its attention on four key areas:

1) Restricting its focus to mobile food vendors
2) Limiting the number of vendors that can legally operate within the city limits
3) Requiring licenses for approved vendors
4) Allowing for a transition period for vendors once the regulations are in place

Anderson, Gutierrez and Kirwan said one of their primary concerns was making sure the city does not become inundated with mobile food vendors in the coming years.

“Right now I’m not real proud of how a lot of them look and in five years it could really change the visual appeal of this town,” Anderson said.

Gutierrez said the city needs to be careful not to open the door to more vendors.

“We need to try to figure out how to stop that and deal with the ones we have,” he said. Hermiston City Planner Clint Spencer said the city is aware of 10 mobile food vendors currently in operation.

Kirwan said the city needs to address the issue before it gets out of hand.

“We don’t want to be a community down the road with 35 mobile vendors and wish we’d taken care of this 10 years ago,” he said.

The subcommittee also distinguished between vendors selling prepared food, such as tacos, and those who sell apples and other produce from the back of a pick-up truck.

“Mobile prepared food vendors is the problem most people want us to look at,” Anderson said. “One old tough farmer told me once that if you’re going to wrestle alligators, you wrestle them one at a time and you wrestle the nearest alligator to you.”

The vendors in Hermiston are considered to be mobile vendors, however, Anderson said none of them have demonstrated much mobility.

“We have immobile vendors, which is sort of an unusual circumstance,” he said.

Some mobile vendors have told the council that moving would be a hardship because they have an established clientele who know where they are; moving to a new location could cost them business.

Anderson suggested looking into the possibility of giving existing mobile food vendors a one-year period for them to adapt to any regulations put in place.

“We have to be sympathetic to the people who run these things,” he said.

And while many of the mobile vendors are Hispanic, Anderson said the city is not targeting Hispanics.

“This is a mobile food vendor issue, not a Hispanic mobile food vendor issue,” he said. “I just want to make that perfectly clear.”

The subcommittee will meet next at 5 p.m. on April 22 in the council chambers at City Hall.