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September 2, 2014

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Mayor’s proposed ordinance tries to stop food fight

Bill would regulate how close, how long food trucks could park near restaurants

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe’s Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

Proposed food truck ordinance

Should food trucks be allowed to operate in proximity to existing businesses?
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Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe's Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

Map of Uncle Joe's Pizza

Uncle Joe's Pizza

505 Fremont Street, Las Vegas

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Gourmet Food Truck Fest

Curi Kim takes orders at The Chairman truck at the South Point Gourmet Food Truck Fest in the parking lot of the South Point in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Launch slideshow »

For a small-business owner in downtown Las Vegas, this was a night to remember. Or one he’d rather forget and hopes never happens again.

Bush Xhindi, owner of Uncle Joe’s Pizza, one of the longtime mainstays on East Fremont Street (it’s one of a few storefronts sandwiched between buildings recently purchased by the Zappos-oriented Downtown Project), couldn’t believe his eyes.

There, in front of his pizza joint, was parked a food truck. And it was selling pizza, no less. This was two or three months ago, and it happened two nights in a row.

Xhindi said the truck owner told him that “Zappos told him it was OK to do that.”

So Xhindi talked “to Zappos,” he said. The people at Zappos told Xhindi they had nothing to do with it.

The short of the story is: Xhindi doesn’t want food trucks near his restaurant.

Neither do some other East Fremont Street restaurants. It’s not that they want food trucks banned; they just don’t want them to be able to park so close to their businesses that they suck away potential customers.

The result of the dispute is a new ordinance to be considered next month by the Las Vegas City Council. Outside of those vendors who obtain special use permits, the proposal would allow food trucks to be parked no closer than 150 feet from an existing business and for up to four hours in a 24-hour time period.

The bill, introduced by Mayor Carolyn Goodman, also limits the time a food truck can do business in the public right-of-way — parked at a curb, for instance — to 30 minutes. That wording would prohibit long-term parking on streets in front of a business like Uncle Joe’s.

The proposal would, though, allow up to two food trucks with a conditional use permit to park for four hours over 24 hours in a lot. And business owners could park their own, or someone else’s food truck, on their own property with no time restrictions.

Michael Cornthwaite, who operates The Beat coffeehouse and Downtown Cocktail Room, both within shouting distance from Uncle Joe’s, said people downtown see both sides. Generally, they feel 150 feet is too short of a distance and 1,000 feet is too much.

Cornthwaite stresses that he thinks the trucks are good for downtown because of the foot traffic they can drive to an area. “They bring excitement and energy here,” he said.

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Longtime Fremont Street eatery Uncle Joe's Pizza is seen Tuesday, July 24, 2012.

But restaurant owners also tell Cornthwaite, who is a touchstone for downtown business owners because of his seven-year foothold there, food trucks have an advantage because they don’t pay taxes or rent.

Restaurants, the owners point out, are permanent while the food trucks mostly show up only on weekends when the area is teeming with people. The restaurant owners feel the food trucks are simply trying to cash in but have no real stake in the downtown area, Cornthwaite said.

“Several of the local restaurant operators feel like, if the trucks draw their own crowd, they should come on a Sunday or Tuesday night, not a Saturday at 10 p.m.,” he added.

Goodman said she requested the draft bill as a way to find a middle ground between the growing food truck industry and protection for existing bricks-and-mortar restaurants.

“We’ve listened to the restaurant owners and food truck owners during several stakeholder meetings, and we’ve come up with what I believe is a fair compromise that addresses the needs of both groups and will enhance the downtown dining experience,” she said.

She touched on the issue of expenses — permanent businesses pay property taxes and/or rent while trucks do not — by changing how food truck license fees are assessed.

Instead of a $100 license fee paid per year, food truck vendors would pay a fee twice yearly based on gross sales. A vendor earning $135,000 to $180,000 in six months, for instance, would pay $100 — then another $100 if they earn that much in the next six months.

City documents say 140 businesses potentially affected by the bill were contacted for opinions. Only 10 replied and none of those 10 were food truck operators. In general, the respondents said food trucks needed more regulation and 150 feet was too short of a distance between the trucks and existing businesses.

Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward includes parts of downtown, agrees.

“We’ve got to protect our restaurants,” Coffin said.

Xhindi said he would like to see the distance between trucks and restaurants legally increased to one mile.

Or he’d just like a little courtesy from the food truck vendors. If the owner of that pizza truck parked in front of his store had simply talked to him, he said, they could have worked out some kind of agreement.

“Instead, they say, ‘We’ll be disrespectful,’ and did not talk to me like a man,” Xhindi said.

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  1. "food trucks have an advantage because they don't pay taxes or rent."

    Translation: Food Trucks have a better business model than permanent restaurants and therefore they must been restricted.

    Heaven forbid the owners of brick and mortar (B&M) restaurants actually do what the tenets of capitalism demand and provide a better service than than the competition at a competitive price. It's so much easier to cry to the government to protect them from the big bad food trucks.

    While food trucks don't pay rent, most do lease their vehicles. They pay sales taxes and vehicle registration fees. They could just as easily argue that since the B&M's don't have to pay for fuel, oil, tires or other vehicle maintenance; and since food trucks don't usually serve alcohol, offer seating, restrooms, an air conditioned dinning room that they are at the disadvantage. Perhaps the city should consider an ordinance that while the food truck is parked outside a restaurant the business must close its doors lest "they suck away potential customers" that might otherwise purchase from the food truck

    Since when is it the government's job to help any specific business survive the competition?

  2. The food trucks are like ticket scalpers. And yes, they aren't paying in to the economy or occupying empty commercial property. We do need to protect the brick and mortar businesses that enhance our downtown and make it a regular business area.

  3. I like that pizza spot, but that owner keeps awful weird hours to be complaining. I've gone by during normal business hours and its closed. Maybe it was random but it's been on more than one occassion.

    I think in areas like downtown, maybe designated parking for food trucks. Where the operators have to pay to park there for a designated amount of time. That parking lot right on the corner of Fremont and LVB that the hookah spot is (until the new place opens) would be perfect for food truck parking downtown.

  4. Uncle Joe's is a great place, wonderful food, & fantastic owner. I could see why he would be mad. That parking space, in front of his place, is usually a taxi drop-off point or 20 minute parking. He also another problem with his location; whenever a concert/festival (Punk Rock Bowling) is around, they close off his area and other businesses to foot traffic. Put the food trucks & concerts down the way in East Fremont, away from the businesses that are trying to do their everyday jobs so the fly-by-nights could leave them alone.

  5. When the food truck shows up go out and give away free pizza until the food truck leaves. problem solved

  6. "bghs1986" says "Translation: Food Trucks have a better business model than permanent restaurants and therefore they must been restricted."

    This is misleading, and inaccurate. Food trucks operate in an entirely different world, subject to much different regulations and requirements, than a brick and mortar restaurant. For instance, a brick and mortar restaurant must provide a restroom for customers; a basic restroom costs $40k to build to code. Boom -- a $40k advantage, and just one of many. And when they park on public property (a street) and use the taxpayer's property, it comes rent free.

    I am a fan of food trucks, but level the playing field and let everyone compete fairly.

  7. "Since when is it the government's job to help any specific business survive the competition?"

    When it is the government itself that has created the costly rules, regulations and requirements that apply to actual restaurants and that mobile eateries skirt. The government created and oversees the building code, the health code, the parking regulations ... Everything. Food trucks were flying under the radar when they were primarily serving construction sites and parked on private property. Now that they are serving a wider audience and parking on public property...

    I'd be willing to bet that few, if any, of those who "cannot understand" why some restaurant owners are asking for a level playing field have never navigated the system, spent their own money, built a retail/service business, and competed in a world of regulations.

  8. Who in their right mind would buy ANYTHING from a food truck??? (Other than an ice cream truck!)

    At least restaurants are inspected and have to have the necessary permits and licenses. The food is prepared in a proper environment, ie out of the hot sun. I always got the impression it's not as strict with food trucks. At least in Vegas anyway.

  9. "bghs 1986" - Those are about the dumbest comments I have ever read in a blog. Let me know where you live and I'll have a bunch of kids come and do car repair in front of your investment, your home, and see how that works out! Your town government should have no responsibility to protect YOUR investment!

  10. I thought the parking alongside Fremont Street was load/unload only? I walked the Fremont Street area not to long ago when I had family in town. I have to say that it is coming along. A lot less bums and more businesses were there. I can see downtown moving in the right direction. Food trucks along fremont street do not seem to fit in, or the experience a Las Vegas vacationer is looking for. Do you want to go on vacation and experience fights between food trucks and restaraunt owners?

  11. Business owners invest in privately-owned (and leased) physical real estate, spending $150-$300 a square foot to build out, subject to code, regulation and requirements. A $35k-$40k food truck then parks in front of that investment, on public property, paying no rent, little to no county tax assessment, often violating (30-minute) parking rules, and skirting all the other costly goverment codes and regulations that storefront restaurants are subjected to.

    If this business model seems proper, and there is to be no regulation, then why wouldn't *everyone* abandon their storefronts and clog the public streets with food trucks? Or, hey, what about booze trucks? Why not just start serving booze from a truck and park *it* on Fremont Street, right in front of the Griffin, and charge half the price for a Hamm's, because, hey, the overhead is negligible?

    It takes physical, permanent investment to create a community (or to reviatlize one). A food truck, no matter how good, is an addendum to a community, not a part of one.

    No, sir, the playing field is far from level.

  12. @ thewookie (Tom Trujillo).....Well wookie you seem to suffer from the school of "if I can't understand it then it must be stupid."

    First off I doubt I would even see those kids from my spot on up on the 14th floor, so you can go right ahead and sent them over. But let's take your example as it was meant, based on your assumption that I have a regular home. If my home was in a area zoned for business then, once again, let them have at it. I doubt they would be doing much business parked in front of a house in the burbs. People wouldn't trust their repairs.

    You see Joe's Pizza is in area zoned for business activities, not a residential neighbohood. People tend to frequent the stores that give them more value for their dollar. If Joe made a superior pizza then why would someone choose to stand outside in the heat in order to buy an inferior product. But Joe doesn't want to make the effort and do what's best for his business. He wants to prove Obama right. If Joes survives because of preferential government treatment, then Obama's claim that he "didn't build that" rings true, because he looked to Mayor Goodman and the LV City Council to help build his business.