This is a simple story. Jenny Perez, a pastry chef, in September 2014 went to see the city of Galveston Planning Official 1, responsible for concessions. This official gave Perez a list of requirements on a sticky note. Perez and Official 1 had many communications over where and how her potential food truck business could be operated. These communications led Perez and her husband to sink their life savings into a food truck so she could follow her dream.

I was contacted by a realtor to see if I was interested in leasing my property next to the jewelry store to the couple. My first responses confirm that they have approved the location with the city. Jenny stated what city official they were working with and after another conversation with this official Jenny informed me that she needed modifications in the lease based on months of operation after reconfirming the location was approved. I entered into a lease with them I guess because I related to her dream, as I started my business with $500 of gold jewelry in a cardboard box. This lease is inconsequential to me financially and actually has been one giant hassle since all this trouble started, but I believe in Jenny’s dream.

On Jan. 29, Official 2 got involved after the Perez’s attempted to turn on electricity to the lot. This official told them they had a serious issue, but there was a simple appeal process to the city manager. I’ve read this email.

At this point, I felt very bad for them. I made a mistake; I called the Director of Planning Rick Vasquez, instead of the city manager, and brought to his attention that his staff had caused this problem. I didn’t beat around the bush as we discussed the matter. He seemed totally oblivious to the whole situation. I was told the city has legal liability in this issue; the specific legal term is promissory estoppel.

The Perez’s after that told me they were working with planning to resolve the issues and were excited about opening. They sincerely thought all issues were resolved and I believed them. When I listened to the city council meeting held March 12, it was like the conversation I had with Vasquez happened in the twilight zone.

Call it whatever you like, but the fact is this problem was caused by city officials and needs to be corrected by city officials. I have no idea what individual council people knew or didn’t know when they discussed and voted on this issue. I was asked by a city councilman to write this to explain Jenny’s plight.

All of this could be fixed, according to Planning Official 2 in his Jan. 29 email to Jenny stating it can be appealed to the city manager’s office, but this official was probably as wrong as Official 1, who apparently caused the debacle in the first place. The latest fix they suggested — move to another location. Yes, planning officials actually are now recommending locations for food trucks. Jenny told me they are financially and emotionally devastated. Folk’s make some phones ring at city hall!

John W. Ford lives in Galveston.

(10) comments

andrew mytelka

I would like for the City to clearly explain why Galveston, unlike Austin, Houston and d a host of cities in Texas and across the nation cannot have food trucks. The only apparent explanation is protectionism for existing restaurants. Lets face it, people who may patronize a food truck are not going for that meal to one of our outstanding restaurants. A set of realistic guidelines needs to be published and not lost in the endless quagmire of "ad hoc" committees who generally do good work only to have it dis-mantled and ignored by city council.

John Ford

FYI
thanks for all that have called me about the story, here's the answers to questions i am getting:

1. The location the city suggested on 61st street was unavialable i personally talked to the owner, who has the property leased , had no idea why city would suggest his property.

2. The city councilman who asked me to write the guest Col. was Norman.

John Ford

Lisa Blair

The "brick and mortar" restaurant owners are missing the big picture on this one. Theses small vendors are no threat to our local restaurants. They offer a completely different experience, lower price point, fewer amenities. Expanding choices expands the market. Trying to limit competition does not bring more customers to your door.

Steve Fouga

Perhaps another reason the City doesn't want the trucks is laziness.

After all, having the trucks in town would mean more regulation, more inspections, more enforcement, more policing, more cleanup, etc. The City might have to hire another employee or two, to handle the added burden. The City might view this as accepting additional hassle for an unknown or unpredictable benefit -- and I think it's obvious to all that Galveston is nothing if not stodgy and set in its ways, and yes, lazy. Certainly not forward-looking, adventurous, entrepreneurial...

I wonder which restaurant owners are lobbying against the food trucks. Certainly none of the good ones, right?
[whistling]

Bob Maiberger

Unfortunately this is just another example of the incompetence of public officials and the lack of leadership infecting most every corner of what passes for government these days. You have the nameless planning officials 1 and 2 not knowing what their job actually requires and the Director of Planning, not entirely cognizant of what is going on in his department. When the problems are brought to the forefront, no one is skilled enough to find a solution that is equitable to all parties involved. It is far easier to kick the can down the road, blame others and move on to the next 8 hour period to get closer to picking up their paycheck. You don't need to be accountable for anything these days. Just form a committee and ponder the problem for a while until all interest in the problem is lost and it just goes away.

Steve Fouga

Lazy. Just too hard.[unsure]

Kevin Lang

A good restaurant has no reason to fear a food truck. They provide a quality experience that food trucks cannot. The expansive menu, consistent service, convenient parking, and freedom from the elements are all things that food trucks are not likely to provide.

A bad restaurant has no reason to fear a food truck. They need to be focused on themselves. The reason people aren't going to your restaurant is not because of the food trucks, but because your restaurant isn't good. If you keep food trucks out, you still have to fix your restaurant, or, guess what? They'll still be going somewhere else.

I don't know of any food trucks that are cheaper than places like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, or Subway. They may be going to food trucks instead of the fast food places, but it's not because of price, but more due to variety.

Food trucks should be looked as any other kind of restaurant competition. The one major competitive advantage food trucks have is the ability to go where brick and mortar restaurants cannot. In Galveston, the biggest issues are places like Cruise Ship Parking Lots, beaches, and residential neighborhoods. Manage those such that they don't gain too much of an advantage, and I don't think things have to get more complicated than that. Just make sure the regulations don't favor independents over restaurateurs, or vice versa, and you shouldn't have to do much more other than make sure everyone plays by the rules.

Steve Fouga

Well-stated, kev. The idea that food trucks will keep me away from my favorite restaurants is silly. And by the way, my favorite ones are the only ones I ever go to.

Galveston has dozens of restaurants, and I've tried most of the non-chains. Many aren't very good, as in any other community. As far as I'm concerned, if the prospect of food trucks causes them to either get their act together or else give up the ghost, so much the better.
[cool]

Kevin Lang

The hard part is getting city leaders to show the kind of tough love the crybabies really need. Hard to do when some of the loudest screamers are also ones that are likely to fund your opponent the next time around.

Don Schlessinger

I wonder how much input the Chanber of C has on something like this?

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