The task force created to determine how to enforce regulations for mobile food vendors has decided to put the issue on hold at its final meeting on June 10, possibly leaving the Tulsa Health Department to enforce guidelines.
This past March, the city began looking into ways to create guidelines for its multiplying numbers of mobile food vendors. Almost 200 notices to these businesses were issued recently, demanding they pay a $750 application fee to be heard by the Board of Adjustments to gain a special exemption that would exempt them from the city's zoning code.
A refusal to pay this application fee, which would not guarantee the Board of Adjustments would hear the business owner, would have resulted in the city closing down the vendor.
After these vendors made an audible uproar over the issue, a task force was created to determine if regulations would be set through zoning, business licenses or health codes.
"There were a lot of issues brought up that had not been addressed," City Councilor Jim Mautino, member of the task force, said about the task force meetings. "Now they realize what the issue is, and they're trying to do something about it. The state needs to be involved because their guidelines were not clear."
The task force met four times beginning in April and with its last meeting June 10. After comparing Tulsa's regulations to other cities, it was determined these businesses were typically permitted through business licenses, not zoning.
"Zoning is primarily for building," said Jack Page, chair of the task force and director of development services for the city of Tulsa.
With many of these businesses setting up for varying amounts of time ranging from hours to months at a time, the state legislature is now looking into changing its time-limit policy. One possible change could be food vendors having a maximum time period of one meal period to set up business. The state will also look into creating more defined ways to categorize these vendors, whether they are operating out of trailers, motorized units or push carts.
New state legislation is set to be passed by July 2011. It was decided at the last task force meeting that the City Council will determine at what level the Oklahoma Health Department can enforce time limits on these vendors.
"It's going to be the Health Department that's going to have most of the issues," Mautino said. "They're going to control how often they go back to a commissary and get re-serviced and get cleaned up."
However, after this final meeting, Page looked further into Health Department regulations.
Page said with state legislation not being specific with time limits, the Health Department has made some tough choices in enforcement of the limits.
"Apparently the Health Department has chosen not to enforce time limits," he said. "I understand where they are coming from. They're concerned it could cause enforcement issues on their part.
"Following the meeting, I've been following through to determine what the Health Department will and will not do," he said. "Their enforcement of regulations are different.
The permit does not limit where they can set up. They can set up right in the middle of a residential area, if they want."
After talking with the Health Department about its regulations, Page is now in the process of looking into ways to create a proper business license for these mobile businesses.
"The process we're looking at is a permitting process for these businesses to operate legitimately and in compliance with state law," he said.
Although Page is still authoring the proposal, he said it would be simple to apply for the business permit. People would be able to fax into the office the location where they would like to set up. He hopes this will help regulate where vendors decide to conduct their business, Page said.
Page plans to take his proposal to the City Council by the week of June 28.
With the task force's meetings wrapped up, vendors might be on their way to a clear set of guidelines so that they can get back to work.
"You can't blame the vendors," Mautino said. "There just wasn't a defined set of rules. As bad as it may have seemed, it's going to work out for everybody's benefit."
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