October 04, 2012
Not only is the Greensboro
"Food truck pilot program" unnecessary according to some Greensboro
city councilmembers, it is more expensive than the council was told it would be. The complicated way the city has chosen to run the program is inconveniencing surrounding commuters and business owners.
At the Tuesday, Oct. 2 meeting of the Greensboro
City Council, City Manager Denise Turner Roth revealed that the process, which should have cost the city nothing but does, will also cost taxpayers.
Under the program, which began Monday, Oct. 1, the city blocks off Commerce Place during the day for the next two months for the benefit of a selection of privately owned and operated food trucks. The food trucks will operate in the area four at a time on a set schedule.
The cost for an ordinary business of renting a parking space, 26 of which are occupied by the food trucks, is $5 per day. For a for-profit organization to close down a street for an event it would cost $200. The Grasshoppers pay $200 to close Bellemeade Street for home games, and they also pay for equipment and security.
The cost to the food vendors if they had set up the program and were paying for it instead of having the taxpayers subsidize it would be roughly the same, although according to Greensboro
Special Events Manager Joshua Sherrick, private enterprises are not typically granted street closure permits lasting two months.
Each of the vendors in the food truck pilot program is required to pay a fee of $20 per session. The sessions run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays for lunch, with a 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. session for dinner on Fridays. However, the parking meters are bagged 24 hours a day.
At Tuesday's meeting Roth revealed that for the month of October the city will be charging itself $400 for blocking Commerce Place, $500 in administrative fees and $2,700 for parking, for a total of $3,600. However, the city will only recoup $2,160 in fees from the vendors, for a loss of $1,440.
Councilmember Trudy Wade said that it seemed "pretty unfair" that the city was subsidizing a select few private businesses.
There have already been complaints about the food trucks. Ann Mann of the Franciscan Center on North Greene Street submitted a written complaint to councilmembers Tuesday, stating that the trucks are taking up parking spaces normally used by their patrons and Mass attendees.
Mann also criticized the aesthetic of the trucks, and said they created a "carnival" atmosphere that detracts from the city.
Other complaints have included the noise of the trucks' generators and the fact that a street is blocked off, making it even more difficult to navigate downtown.
Food trucks are currently illegal downtown except for on Commerce Place, and the Greensboro
City Council initiated the pilot program with the stated intent of testing the feasibility of changing the ordinance.
But a week before the program began councilmembers decided at a work session to go ahead and pursue changing the ordinance without waiting to see how the pilot turns out, something that Councilmembers Zack Matheny and Wade had advocated before the pilot program was approved.
Because changing the ordinance could take several months, councilmembers decided to let the pilot go forward anyway, but they were not told there would be any cost to the city of allowing the food trucks to occupy Commerce Place.
When reached for comment on the complaints, Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, who advocated the pilot program, said she feels it is a good way to gauge the issues that will be associated with changing the ordinance. She said she also thought that changing the ordinance would likely use public parking spaces as well, since downtown business aren't required to have parking.
"It's growing pains. I don't think people can expect it to be perfect right out of the gate," she said in regard to the complaints associated with the trucks.
Vaughan also said the pilot program might be adjusted, as staff look for better ways to organize the program than to block off a street and 26 parking spaces for two months.
At Tuesday's meeting the council also passed a resolution supporting an amendment to the US Constitution overturning part of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The resolution has no binding power or force of law, but still managed to draw a good number of supporters to the council chambers, five of whom spoke on the item. The speakers expressed concern that corporate campaign contributions, which Citizens United protected as free speech under the First Amendment, diluted the voice of the people.
"Nothing like having a fundamental disagreement with a room full of people," said Matheny before explaining why he would not be supporting the resolution.
Matheny pointed out that the court case dealt with unions, and not just corporations, and that money had a role in political campaigns long before the Citizens United ruling.
"Years before when there was a movie about Bush and Fahrenheit 9/11, that was OK; when George Soros said he'd give $100 million to defeat Bush that was OK; but when this came about it took a whole different approach," Matheny said.
Matheny also expressed the belief that unlimited corporate spending was not enough to rig an election. "One of the things that I see that's very different would be, corporations don't have a vote," Matheny said. "When I go into the ballot box and anybody sitting in this room goes to cast their ballot, they go into that ballot box one person, nobody owns you, just one person."
Matheny also pointed out that the American Civil Liberties Union was opposed to overturning the Citizens United decision, because they too saw it as protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Vaughan produced a laundry list of Supreme Court decisions that were overturned in the past, particularly those dealing with racial equality. She brought up Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which upheld segregation in schools, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which held that African slaves were not protected as US citizens, and Pace v. Alabama (1883), which supported laws banning interracial marriages. "The Supreme Court is not infallible," she said.
Wade later commented on Vaughan's list and strategy, saying, "I didn't hear her say how many decisions they made that we never even talked about overturning, and I would imagine that there are so many that we probably wouldn't even be able to come up with a number."
Wade also said that despite the ruling and concerns from citizens, a relatively small amount of political campaign contributions come from corporations. She said that a significant amount comes from "social welfare groups," which unlike super PACs, which were created by Citizens United, do not have to reveal who their donors are.
Wade said she thought the council was wasting its time with the resolution. "This really has nothing that the City Council can do anything about, and we have one of the highest unemployment rates, we need to get jobs, and we've just wasted in my opinion an hour on something that we have absolutely no effect on," she said....continued on page 2