Council weighs food trucks

Special to the PRESS

Seemingly out of the blue, as it was the first time on the agenda, the South Padre Island City Council held a discussion on the first reading of Ordinance No. 15-11 to allow mobile food establishments, also known as food trucks on the Island.

The City Council has been active in pursuing goals to develop a new culture in the area with walkable streets that would boost the economy by encouraging perusing of shops and an active lifestyle. A recent social media post by Councilman Dennis Stahl requesting feedback on the issued tipped off the community prompting over 700 responses.

According to Mayor Barry Patel, several months ago he requested that Environmental Health Director Victor Baldovinos look into the possibility of bringing food trucks to the Island to broaden the food experience at SPI. As a frequent traveler who visits brick and mortar restaurants and mobile food stands alike, the mayor hoped that the City could manage this in a proper way that would encourage the economy as food options provide an integral part of tourism, the Island’s main industry.

Baldovinos studied many ordinances from different municipalities including Houston, Austin and McAllen. Some challenges he found included signage issues, the difficulty of tracking food borne illness investigations, and trash issues. However, there were many advantages noted such as development of private property, increased revenues from sales tax and adding a variety of culinary arts to the area through the “food truck revolution.”

As written in the proposed ordinance, mobile food establishments would be required to park only in permitted areas with paved and landscaped lots. In addition, they would not be allowed to add signage other than what is on the truck or trailer. The trucks would be prohibited in specific zones for residential areas and other fire code and safety issues will also be required. Concerns about seating, parking, and more were discussed.

Council members had previously discussed the issue with some local restaurateurs and opened the floor for public comments. Some came with questions and just wanted to have a fair playing field while others came with strong opposition to the ordinance.

Michael Lafferty, co-owner and chief financial officer of Padre Rita Grill, argued, “The food trucks will come in during summer. At height of summer, they will make money, they will leave. They will not employ people on the Island. Food trucks will not benefit people living, working, and looking for jobs.” He said the council has a moral responsibility to their constituents and that although it might be a profitable business to some, would ultimately not benefit the Island.

Other restaurateurs shared concerns with some arguing that the data studied was taken from larger cities and would therefore not apply to the specific situation in SPI. Arnie Creinin of Gabriella’s Italian Grill and Pizzeria recommended that the council start by creating a task force of local restaurateurs and city staff to come up with ideas and further review the details of the proposed ordinance to consider how it might affect local businesses.

Patel responded to their concerns saying, “I think more people do want to have the food experience. I frequent areas that do have a variety of food. My personal experience is that we eat out twice a week. If we had them, we eat out four to five times. I think it will increase your business. If I thought otherwise, I would not do it.” The council agreed to table the item until it is further reviewed by a task force of restaurant owners.

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