At issue is a citation received by Seoul Food for violating the 60 minute rule, which police began enforcing over the summer. As noted in a CATO Institute post last week, the food truck owner told police he had moved to a different spot after one hour, but the ticketing officer didn’t believe the truck had moved far enough from its original position.
The Arlington-based Institute for Justice (901 N. Glebe Road) became involved after some of its workers heard about the legal issues while stopping at a food truck for lunch one day. They thought it fit perfectly into the organization’s National Street Vending Initiative, which aims to foster conditions that allow food trucks to thrive.
“We’ve been fighting on behalf of vendors across the nation and wanted to find a way for them [Seoul Food] to continue earning an honest living,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) attorney Robert Frommer, who also represented Arlington doggy daycare business Wag More Dogs in its unsuccessful fight against Arlington’s sign regulations.
Because it’s a criminal matter, the IJ didn’t take on the case itself, but instead requested assistance from law firms in the D.C. metro area that might be willing to work on the case pro bono. Frommer said a number of firms have come forward to assist Seoul Food, and possibly other vendors that may be in a similar situation.
Besides fighting the citations, the goal is to work with Arlington County to change the 60 minute rule.
“Food trucks give people with big dreams, but not a lot of capital, a chance to work hard and succeed,” said Frommer. “They do that in a way that benefits the community. Arlington County should recognize that and rescind its one hour rule so food trucks can continue to thrive and serve the community.”
Frommer said workers at IJ believe the 60 minute rule is unconstitutional.
“The 60 minute rule furthers no legitimate government interest in safety. All it does is make the lives of vendors difficult and prevents them from being able to succeed,” he said. “It’s the government’s job to regulate health and safety, but it’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers. That’s the job of consumers.”
The IJ also believes the penalties for violating the 60 minute rule are too harsh. Per the Arlington County code, “Any person violating any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” A Class 1 offense is the most severe of Virginia’s four misdemeanor classifications, and could bring penalties of jail time up to one year and a fine of up to $2,500. Other examples of Class 1 misdemeanors include DUI, assault and battery, possession of marijuana and driving on a suspended license.
County code does not, however, list a specific distance food trucks are required to move after one hour, so it’s up to the interpretation of each officer enforcing the law. According to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, officers try to be consistent.
“Based upon how the county code is currently written, our officers use discretion in citing the food truck vendors,” said Sternbeck. “When the officers appear in court, they must be able to articulate a reason why they cited them [the vendors].”
In the Seoul Food case, the vendor claims to have been given three different answers as to how far he was required to move his vehicle. Police say the vendor has been given the appropriate documentation regarding the rules on numerous occasions.
Sternbeck notes that police have been “flooded” with complaints about food trucks, and the officers are merely responding to the complaints. He said officers do not target food truck vendors unless responding to a complaint. A number of brick and mortar restaurants and other businesses consistently call to complain when food trucks are parked in front of their establishments, Sternbeck said.
Sternbeck said that officers spent hours going around and educating the food truck vendors on the rules before enforcement efforts commenced. Currently, vendors are warned on their first offense and ticketed for any incidents after that.
“We have to respond to these complaints and that requires us to sit out there for at least one hour to see that vendors have not moved,” said Sternbeck. “It’s up to the courts once we present the information and facts on it, whether or not they want to proceed with the fine.”
The IJ believes the community will back the efforts to change the 60 minute rule, which could help the initiative gain steam.
“I think the people in Arlington love the food trucks. Every day I go out to lunch I see people lined up. People love choice, they love having the option to decide what they want for lunch,” Frommer said. “When they understand what the 60 minute rule is doing to food trucks, I think they’ll strongly support the reforms we believe the county should adopt.”
It’s National Barbecue Month, and as the weather warms up, more people are firing up the grills. But before getting caught up in grilling, it might be a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with the Arlington County fire code.
According to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Captain Gregg Karl, problems can arise with people in multi-unit residences, such as condos and high rise apartments, who may not even realize they’re violating the code.
No grills, combustible devices or open flame cooking devices are to be used or stored on balconies and rooftops. Fire pits and similar types of warming devices are also banned. Electric devices without an open flame are acceptable.
Most standalone homes and townhouses with ground level patios are exempted from the rules. However, the fire department still recommends trying to keep the device 15 feet away from the building, or as far as space allows.
“You do still have the potential for a fire if something goes wrong with the grill,” Karl said. “We want people to be aware of where they’re putting the grill and the potential dangers.”
Landlords are supposed to inform tenants, in writing, of all the fire code regulations upon move-in and lease renewal. After that, tenants are responsible for following the regulations.
Those who are found to be in violation of the code will be issued a notice and given the opportunity to remove the offending items. Failure to correct the violation could result in a citation and fine.
Karl encourages people with questions about the rules to call the Arlington County Fire Prevention Office at 703-228-4644.
The Sun Gazette reports this morning that the County Board has discussed the idea of training and empowering citizens to enforce sign laws in Arlington by spotting and reporting violations to county staff.
Proponents for citizen sign enforcement have spoken up during past Board meetings, but with little to show for it. Now, however, with the county advertising proposed changes to its sign ordinance, three out of five Board members seem willing to seriously consider the idea.
One argument against the idea is the conflict it could create between business owners and the citizen sign enforcers.
Should citizens be deputized to be the “eyes and ears” of county code enforcement?
A property owner was arrested last week and charged with bribery, after allegedly trying to pay off a county inspector who had discovered code violations. Ibrahim Abdullah, a Cherrydale resident, was booked and held on a $5,000 bond.
BRIBERY-ARREST, 08/31/11, 3600 block of Fairfax Drive. On August 31 at 10 am, a person who owns several properties in Arlington County with code violations attempted to bribe a county inspector. The inspector reported the incident to the police. Ibrahim Abdullah, 56, of Arlington, was charged with Bribery. He was held on a $5,000 bond.
The rest of this week’s Arlington County crime report, after the jump.
Earlier this week we reported that some residents were upset with loophole in Arlington’s parking code that allows commercial trucks to park for extended periods of time in front of schools, libraries and other county properties.
But trucks aren’t the only hulking masses taking up space on the side of local roads. Here’s what one peeved resident wrote us this morning:
Storage pods are very popular nowadays with all the moving that goes on in Arlington, but usually they are picked up in a few days and require a county permit. This pod has been on 1st Road South in front of Butler Holmes Park for over three months. We have called the Boxcart company, and were told they would pick it up. They didn’t, and why would they – they are getting free storage of the pod courtesy of Arlington. We have called the county twice. They said they would look into it because they should be charging a fee to Boxcart – much more interested in revenue generation than getting this storage unit off our street. They didn’t even do that, as the storage unit is still sitting there with no permit.