A bill allowing food trucks and other vendors to operate on city roads and highways for up to three hours at a time advanced from the City Council Transportation Committee Thursday afternoon.
The measure, which passed 5-0 with two of the five committee members expressing reservations, was introduced on behalf of food truck vendors who say police officers have been giving them citations and warnings, disrupting their ability to operate, especially in downtown Honolulu neighborhoods.
The bill now goes to the Council for the second of three necessary votes. It will also need to return to the Transportation Committee.
Food truck vendors said it’s critical that the Council enact legislation to protect them before they are run out of business.
Camille Komine, who operates Camille’s on Wheels, has stopped operating downtown during lunchtime since the recent crackdown and has been working primarily in Kailua.
Komine said she knows of five trucks that have been cited, which carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Poni Askew, who organizes the monthly Eat the Street food wagon event, called it critical that Council members do something soon before the growing number of food trucks starts dwindling. "It’s critical to this industry at this point for this law to be passed as soon as possible," Askew said. "They’re losing money."
Meanwhile, organizers of Tacoako Tuesday, an event that had been attended by food trucks weekly at a Kakaako park, stopped operating this week after police issued warnings there.
Honolulu Police Department Maj. Sean Naito, Honolulu patrol district commander, said the bill will be hard to enforce if it becomes law.
The bill is not clear about whether a police officer would need to sit and observe whether a vendor has stayed beyond the allowable time, or could simply tag a truck’s tires with chalk and return at the end of the allowable time, Naito said. "It can be done. It’s just that it can be affecting our resources," he said.
Naito said that tagging food trucks is not a priority for police, but that HPD will enforce the law when there are complaints.
But several food truck vendors and their supporters said the law is being enforced by only a few police officers in certain parts of downtown.
No one spoke against the bill.
The Hawaii Restaurant Association submitted testimony suggesting the Council consider creating a buffer zone between food trucks and other trucks as well as "brick-and-mortar," or standing, restaurants. Roger Morey, the association’s executive director, urged Council members to work with restaurateurs to come up with a solution.
City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka suggested Council members look more deeply into the issue and perhaps consider establishing a permitting process that spells out when and where food trucks can do business.
Councilman Romy Cachola, one of the committee members voting with reservations, said the Council should consider allowing food trucks to operate only during certain hours, such as lunchtime.
Councilman Nestor Garcia said he’s bothered that the bill is too broad and would let vendors other than food trucks set up shop for three hours at a time around the island.