Mayor Parker Not Interested in "Embarrassing Council Members" with Another Food Truck Debate

parkercrop.jpg
Photo by Michael Shum
Mayor Annise Parker talked food trucks and more in yesterday's live chat.
Mayor Annise Parker may be with the times on certain issues -- she's certainly adept at social media, for one -- but the City of Houston's current food truck ordinance isn't one of them.

Parker participated in a live online chat via CultureMap yesterday afternoon frm 1 to 2 p.m., part of her continuing campaign to be more accessible to Houstonians (her last live chat was via the Houston Chronicle back in October).

Predictably, one of the questions posed by an Internet denizen was on the status of the current food truck ordinance, which its opponents claim is too restrictive and biased against mobile food units in favor of brick-and-mortar restaurants. Last fall, City of Houston sustainability director Laura Spanjian proposed changes to that before a City Council that was, shall we say, less than versed on the topic of food trucks.

The result was a rather embarrassing circus of bizarre questions from certain council members and defensive, rambling, confused responses to food truck supporters' concerns. Councilman Andrew Burks, Jr. provided some of the most memorable quotes during a City Council meeting on September 18, suggesting that the propane tanks many food trucks are equipped with could be used as bombs.

"Anything catastrophic like that could be a real hard damage and hard time for Houston, Texas or anywhere," Burks said, stressing the dangers posed by a single propane tank (which requires incendiary rounds to be repeatedly fired at it before it could explode, and which are found in mass quantities in nearly every restaurant patio, grocery store entrance and home improvement store).

Burks continued: "And you know that in the times which we live in, I think this is totally outrageous. I'm outraged by that. Because the reason is that in these times when people get bombed in embassy attacks and we put this type of bomb directly here in front of us and we know we could be causing trouble..."

Councilman Jack Christie questioned whether or not illegal substances were being sold from food trucks, and how massive chains like Whataburger could possibly survive being in direct competition with a handful of food trucks. Currently, one of the restrictions placed on food trucks requires that any seating must be at least 150 feet away from a mobile unit -- thus keeping the trucks from "competing" with a sit-down restaurant.

Other restrictions prevent food trucks from operating downtown or in the Medical Center without a special event permit, which are difficult to come by. A commenter in Parker's live chat session asked when this restriction would be lifted and the food truck ordinance reconsidered as a whole:

When can we have a Council vote on lifting food truck restrictions in Downtown and elsewhere? Even if there isn't sufficient votes to pass it, it is time to get Council Members on the record so they can be held responsible for their positions.

Parker's response indicated that she seemed aware of the cringe-worthy quotes that came out of the initial City Council meeting on the topic, saying:

I clearly support food trucks and wish to see the restrictions on food trucks downtown lifted. I'm not in the business of embarrassing Council Members, nor am I inclined to bring something to a vote that I know cannot pass. However, I intend to pass a new food truck ordinance as soon as practical, and I'm NOT going to give up. I encourage you to reach out to your council members!

The food truck ordinance wasn't the only food-related topic on the agenda, however. A commenter asked Parker when the Third Ward would finally get a grocery store, to which Parker responded:

I have had a Food Desert Task Force for two years working on that issue. I am willing to assist with limited incentives for a grocery store to locate in any underserved or food desert location in Houston. Ultimately, it's a market decision by the grocers.

FYI, as an alternative, we are creating a system of allottment gardens on city-owned vacant lots throughout underserved areas so that people can grow their own fresh produce. The city is supporting farmer's markets in various areas.

And in answer to a commenter's question about her favorite restaurants, Parker namechecked Canopy, Harry's and La Mexicana -- all Montrose favorites near her home -- as well as wings and waffles mecca the breakfast klub.



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15 comments
frank32
frank32

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Xavier Balderas
Xavier Balderas

Foodtrucks are part of illuminati, tacos stands initiated this new chapter...

Anse
Anse

I don't think we should criticize the mayor too harshly for this. Like it or not, she has to work with Burks and other council crazies (Helena Brown springs to mind), not just on this issue but every issue. Going full-bore into a public and personal shaming of these lunatic viewpoints probably won't accomplish very much. It's for us to call them out, but it's for the mayor to do what she can to maintain a certain level of professionalism. 

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

Man, we really do have some stupid City Clowncil members representing us.

Clifton Newjersee
Clifton Newjersee

Good to know our local council is as stupid as our state and federal ones. Perhaps the discussion should be less about food trucks and more about the short bus these idiots take to work every day.

ecnordstrom
ecnordstrom

More time for the indoor ski mountain plan to coalesce. It could work. 

Tommy Gregory
Tommy Gregory

As seen in this photo, they don't want you to see what's in their eyes

Hector Garza
Hector Garza

Channel 11 put food trucks on blast for health code violations, got me reconsidering food trucks and sticking to taco stands lol

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@Anse Why do you think calling a vote on a matter of public interest is "personal shaming"? Why should Council Members be empowered to keep their views on matters of public policy a secret? Burks has been very vocal, but others have been very comfortable not to take a position. Allowing them to keep their views private preserves incumbents and damages challengers. How can a challenger draw a distinction when we only get a vote on things that are sure to pass?

If a Council Member would be humiliated by taking a position on a matter, maybe it's more a problem with their position than the fact that they were given an opportunity to vote on it.

Anse
Anse

@Kylejack So we have some on the council who have doubts about this change in policy, but are not ready to make those doubts public. Pushing a vote on an issue that is sure to fail accomplishes what, then? Here's the problem, as I see it: we all like transparency in our government. But it would be foolish to think that plenty of behind-the-scenes politicking is not or should not happen. I don't know if the mayor is taking a strategic approach to this or not, but it would seem to me that if some on the council need to have their minds changed, bringing this to a vote may not be the way to change them. Should we vote out the council members who object to loosening the rules on food trucks? Probably. But is that issue important enough to drive voters to act on election day? I doubt it. Am I a fan of Mayor Parker? Yes I am, and while you may accuse me of giving her too much leeway because of that, I'm not going to forget that it is not, in fact, the mayor that stands in the way of this change in policy. 

Aggie_Kelli
Aggie_Kelli

Perhaps it would be possible to introduce a bill of some sort to put on the next ballot?

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

@Anse This has nothing to do with being a fan of Parker. I'm a fan of Parker and think she is dead wrong on this issue. There's nothing humiliating about stating your earnest political beliefs and taking either flack or praise for them, unless of course the position itself is something to be embarrassed about.

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