Bureaucrats shut down Atlanta Food Truck Park

May 9, 2012 14:06 pm

by Jason · 24 comments

Many Georgians were outraged last year when kids had their lemonade stand shutdown because they lacked a food permit. Judging from the reaction, most people found it ridiculous. After all, these were kids who were simply trying to earn money to visit a waterpark for some summer fun.

While this seems like a very minor example, it was a case of a local government infringing on economic liberty*; and sadly, these cases aren’t few and far between. And though it’s not a simple lemonade stand run by kids, the City of Atlanta has shutdown the Atlanta Food Truck Park and Market, and not because of the lack of a food permit or for health code violations:

Last Thursday, the Atlanta Police Department License and Permits unit arrived at the Atlanta Food Truck Park and began shutting down trucks left and right. The park on Howell Mill Road, the first permanent food truck park in Atlanta open 7 days a week, remains temporarily closed until enough of the vendors can clear up the permit issues with the APD.

For the most part, news about the closing has been limited to references of “permitting issues,” without much detail as to what that means. I spoke with Howard Hsu yesterday, co-owner of the Atlanta Food Truck Park, to get a better understanding of what exactly is happening, and what is next for the Food Park. What follows is a very condensed summary of that conversation.

To be perfectly clear, none of the permits in question have anything to do with food-safety violations. All of the vendors affected had business licenses and had passed health inspections. Also, the park itself is not in violation of any permits, just all of the vendors that populate it.

The crux of the issue is the restriction – or rather, enforcement – of the number of locations allowed by a mobile vending permit. Until the passage of the Food Truck Ordinance, the City of Atlanta’s verbiage was singular – “location” – meaning that a food truck operator would have to re-apply for a new permit and re-pay the associated fees every time it moved locations. Section G of the new ordinance changed the City of Atlanta’s wording to allow for “multiple locations as indicated on the vending permit.”

The other major change brought on by the ordinance was the reduction in permissible proximity to a brick-and-mortar business selling similar items from 1500 feet to 200 feet.

However, the Food Truck Ordinance did not re-write every tangled link of compliance across the wide range of required permits, only the City of Atlanta codes. The wording still remains in the State of Georgia’s code that “a mobile food service unit or an extended food service unit must restrict operation to a maximum of two (2) locations or areas stipulated by the permit.” That would mean a re-application process and hundreds of dollars in fees every time a food truck wants to operate from any location that isn’t one of the two on file with the State Health Department.

Up until this point, the Atlanta Police Department hadn’t enforced the two location restriction in the Georgia code as long as the vendor had valid city permits.

So, technically, every one of the vendors at the park was required to have the Howell Mill Park as one of their two locations on file with the State Health Department. But it wasn’t just one or two lazy owners whose permits were not up to date; every truck in the park was in violation.

Hsu relayed the strong sense of frustration among the food truck operators with the process, as many of them had applied numerous times for the permits showing the Howell Mill address as a location, only to have their application delayed or denied for trivial reasons.

But it wasn’t until he explained the cause of the most recent delay in re-opening the park that I realized just how silly and frustrating this process can really be.

My wife and I attended the opening of the park a couple of weeks ago with some friends. It’s a really a neat concept. The only negative was that, because the lines were so long and some trucks were already running out of food, we wound up eating at Six Feet Under. Of course, we didn’t leave until I had my first taste of King of Pops.

It’s not like the restaurant owners don’t know what they’re doing. For example, Howard Hsu and his wife run at least two restaurants (Gezzo’s in McDonough and Sweet Auburn in Atlanta) and are well-seasoned (no pun intended) in the bureaucracy that comes with being small business owners. They’re bright people with a passion for food and pleasing their clientele.

It’s not a lemonade stand, but it’s a similar story. Unfortunately, these restaurant owners and their hardworking employees now have to deal with economic losses because of bureaucratic wrangling. Great job, Atlanta.

*And no, I’m not speaking out against licensing requirements, merely the overly bureaucratic process that it has become.

benevolus May 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm

It’ll be a neat idea when they get some more electricity there so they don’t have to run the generators, and put up some canopies over the tables so you don’t have to sit in the blazing sun, and clean up the grounds a little bit so I can take my mother with only a 50/50 chance of her getting hurt. Bonus points if they plant a tree.

Calypso May 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Damn, just build a restaurant.

benevolus May 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Really.
I guess it’s like tailgating without a game to go to.

What what May 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Why are you attacking the City of Atlanta for what according to the article you posted is a state law? Is it your belief that municipalities in the State of Georgia should be free to ignore whatever state law they don’t want to enforce? From the article it sounds like the City of Atlanta has already put in a lot of effort to change their laws to allow for food trucks. Why blame the city for something that is a requirement of the State of Georgia?

Chris Huttman May 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

I think a lot of Democrats and Atlanta area dwellers probably do wish that the municipalities and counties could ignore whatever state laws they don’t like, seeing as the 53% Republican majority at the state governs like the 47% of non-Republicans and probably about 20% extra of the 53% don’t even exist.

Jason May 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Why has the city arbitrarily enforced the law?

What what May 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Nice dodging of my questions. I will however extend to you the courtesy that you have refused to me and make a guess as to the answer to your question. The city likely didn’t realize that the food truck park violated state law. When they became aware, likely through a complaint, they enforced it. No doubt there are some sour grapes from permanent restaurants but their motivation, if they are indeed behind this, does not magically make the laws of the State of Georgia invalid.

Now, would you please do me the courtesy of explaining why you are heaping scorn on the City of Atlanta for enforcing the laws of the State of Georgia. And please extend me the courtesy of giving your view on the rights of state chartered municipalities to ignore whatever state laws they don’t feel like enforcing. Or are you going once again try to dodge the questions with another tangental question of your own? Perhaps you’d like to Google some examples of municipalities in Georgia that have willingly ignored state law (no doubt you will find examples though I can’t say that for sure) and use that to once again dodge these very simple and straight forward questions.

Jason May 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm

The article notes that Atlanta has not enforced the law. That’s a fact. Why are they suddenly enforcing the law now? That’s suspicious in my opinion. And let’s not forget that they restaurants in question did indeed try to go through the bureaucracy and fix this.

Rambler1414 May 10, 2012 at 9:40 am

“Why is this Police Officer allowed to write me a speeding ticket on this road? I drove 90 mph on it yesterday and didn’t receive a ticket. They shouldn’t be able to decide when they want to enforce the laws!”

David Staples May 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm

“Is it your belief that municipalities in the State of Georgia should be free to ignore whatever state law they don’t want to enforce?”

I can’t speak for Jason, but that is indeed my belief. As a small business / farm owner, I’ve had a number of dealings with both Cobb County and the state government. One of the most recent examples includes a group of Cobb County bureaucrats who believe the law reads one way, whereas the EPD and I believe it reads another.

Another example is the various fire / burning laws. I was burning some stumps, limbs and various brush back on February 28th. The fire department came out and gave me a yellow piece of paper which I guess was a notice of violation. It couldn’t have quite been a citation because an officer showed up this past Monday, May 7th to give me a citation. Going back to the notice of violation though, I was told by my local fire department that they had no choice but to issue the notice of violation because someone had reported a fire. It wasn’t up to them… they were required to enforce state law. So after getting the citation, I called yesterday to inquire as to how much it’s going to cost me. $675 for burning some stumps and limbs on my farm. Yep… sounds reasonable, right? Anyhow, it’s late and I’ve got to run.

Calypso May 9, 2012 at 9:45 pm

$675 for burning some stumps and limbs on my farm.

holy fark. Do you have a snowball’s chance of contesting it and winning?

saltycracker May 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Outdoor fires are a reg under the state DNR

http://fire.cobbcountyga.gov/marshal_burn.htm

peachstealth May 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

I guess things have changed. When I quit farming in 2000 if you needed to burn, you called the forestry department to tell them where, when and what you were burning and they’d issue you a permit number over the phone.
If you can’t burn wheat or rye stubble in June you just about can’t double crop soy beans.

David Staples May 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Calypso – no idea. The solicitor general apparently was out of town when I called but will be back in the office next week. Of course I’ll be in Europe next week, so my timeframes for calling him back will be rather limited and I try not to run up the bills for my work cell phone unnecessarily. The current court date is June 7th at 9 am, so I’d like to get it settled out of court before then as quickly as possible.

seenbetrdayz May 10, 2012 at 9:43 am

If I could briefly threadjack:

I’d check on that, David. I can’t imagine what *state* law you would have violated if you were burning for agricultural purposes. And the EPD burn ban doesn’t take effect until May 1st each year, so you would have been good, there.

But*, Cobb may have some additional ordinances (which some places do; where I live, the city gets pissed if you don’t call the F.D. office and ask for a permit, and the answer is always “no” anyways). If you live outside the city limits (like I do, Hallelujah!), no one cares, as long as you aren’t burning tires or chemicals—that is.

GFC recently re-did their website, here’s the link for permits:

http://www.gfc.state.ga.us/online-permits/index.cfm

seenbetrdayz May 10, 2012 at 10:17 am

Actually, yeah, it looks like you’re screwed. Just checked Cobb in that drop-down menu to see about obtaining permits, and this shows up:

County Restrictions:
: Residents of Cobb County must follow local rules for burning. Go to http://fire.cobbcountyga.gov/ for complete outdoor burning information in Cobb County. Those residing inside the city limits of Marietta, Smyrna, or Austell may have additional restrictions. Check with your city fire department.

Sucks to be a farmer in Cobb County.

David Staples May 11, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Yep, Cobb County bureaucrats don’t like farmers. It’s almost enough to make me consider running for County Commissioner. If not this year, perhaps 4 years from now.

Three Jack May 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Stupid laws preventing free commerce. Once again government bureaucracy proves the need for less of it.

johnl May 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I have had my share of experiences with the City’s bureaucracy, from zoning to tree ordinances to building inspectors. I firmly believe that most of those entities are unnecessarily difficult in order to generate more work, which justifies the existence of their jobs. I find it interesting that one poster is so vociferously supportive of the City’s actions. Perhaps they are a city official, or a permanent restauranteur nearby who complained?

saltycracker May 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm

If it goes wrong, it’s the City’s fault. The citizens of Atlanta are fairly consistent in demanding the City oversee every aspect of their life and should not complain when their wishes are granted.

cheapseats May 10, 2012 at 8:32 am

Nothing unusual. At many conferences and meetings of municipal officials around the country it is a common theme – city officials are always getting the blame for enforcing state laws. Do we really need a state government? I’m not sure that I think state governments really add anything but I am sure that they cause a lot of problems since you have folks voting on issues that are not relevant to the area from which they are elected.

I can see a few areas where there should be some statewide authority but, overall, the state meddles in areas that are best left to the municipalities and/or counties. I was originally attracted to the Republicans when they were strong supporters of “local control” but that was the era when they were in the minority in the General Assembly and held no state-wide offices. Now that the R’s are firmly ensconced, “local control” is suddenly a bad thing. Now I can see that “local control” is the mantra of whichever party is in the minority at the state level.

NoTeabagging May 10, 2012 at 10:06 am

There are state laws, then local laws (County, City) on the same topic. It is my understanding local laws can trump state law. A city can take a state law and make it more/less restrictive and the local law rules. Please correct me if I am wrong.

My examples are what I call “Nuisance” laws: Litter, illegal signs, noise, etc.
They start with state law, then are copied by counties and municipalities with refinements along the way.
These are also perfect examples of laws and ordinances that are enforced or ignored at the discretion of the local authority.

David Staples May 11, 2012 at 9:41 pm

I believe a municipality can make a law less restrictive than a state law, but you can still be charged with violating the more strict state law. Typically what you’ll mostly see, in my experience anyways, is municipal law being more strict than state laws.

shane May 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm

There’s a new children’s book out that has a cop shutting down a lemonade stand. A sign of the times for sure. Here’s a link to the book http://www.pugmillpublishing.com

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