During yesterday's city council discussion on expanding street food in Seattle, restaurant owners and industry advocates predictably lobbied for a 100-foot setback from their businesses (instead of the proposed 50-foot setback), demanded "some level of consent from immediate [building] owners" before vendors could set up shop, and suggested that instead of encouraging street food vendors, the city should pilot a program to put vendors in parks.
Here are a few quick reasons why their arguments are stupid:
—A 100-foot setback basically cripples good legislation meant to introduce more street food in highly trafficked commercial areas. For instance, it would cut the number of potential sites for carts and trucks from 20 to eight in a seven-block section of Capitol Hill (mostly in front of public storage building and in other deserted areas). Check it out for yourself (.pdf)
—Building owners don't own sidewalks, which are public right-of-way controlled by the Seattle Department of Transportation. Demanding that food vendors get consent to use the sidewalk from private building owners is not only stupid, it's illegal.
—Finally, "we already allow food vendors in parks," explained Dan Nolte, a spokesman for council member Sally Clark. "We've seen that there's not the foot traffic there to make it beneficial."
Clearly, some restaurant owners' knee-jerk reaction is to cripple a great proposal and block competition from setting up shop on their blocks. (A few have even gone so far as to complain that street vendors get too good of a deal on permitting costs—even as these same restaurant owners praise SDOT for helping them create cheap sidewalk cafe space for their businesses.)
But as Street Treats owner Diane Skwiercz pointed out during yesterday's public comment period, the Ballard Farmer's market opens up blocks of roadway to local farmers and food vendors every weekend in a corridor of bustling restaurants and stores, and the activity draws pedestrians to the area and ultimately increases business for everyone—not hurts it.
The city council isn't done debating the issue, though—they're slated to vote on street food in late July (at the earliest). So if you want to weigh in, send the council's Built Environment committee members a quick email.