With less than a week to go before the much-debated food truck pilot program launches, we still lack any criteria for measuring whether the initiative fails or succeeds.
City councilors — having already approved the project — ironed out most of the outstanding details Tuesday night. But they neglected to include a framework for tracking the program’s progress.
What a shame, since this sets up an acrimonious debate in the fall and winter of 2015, when the trial run ends and city councilors are expected to decide whether to further ease restrictions on food trucks. While the pilot program lets roving restaurants operate at city parks, schools — at the invitation of the superintendent’s office — farmer’s markets and on private property, it still bans them from undertaking the curbside vending for which they are best known.
Without data for the first several weeks (or months), we won’t have a clear picture of how the program is faring. Why not just rely on anecdotal evidence? Because that is what we are setting ourselves up for in 2015: a debate based more on individuals’ experience and emotion than hard facts.
Is that what our elected leaders want? After all, without being beholden to the facts on the ground, city councilors can justify whatever decision they make when the trial run ends.
And that prospect ought to be as upsetting to food truck proponents as those who worry about the impending influx of mobile eateries.
This is why the Times pushed, several weeks ago in an editorial, for city officials to draft a framework by which to judge the program’s outcome. We are dismayed at how easily this concern was dismissed.
City Councilor John Chapman said the issue was one for the food truck task force, that same body that did not have a chance to finalize its recommendations before Alexandria’s top elected officials overrode them. Meanwhile, City Councilor Justin Wilson said, effectively, not to worry. City Hall will get around to figuring it out.
Taking them one at a time, if the task force should be the body to decide how to measure food trucks’ viability in Alexandria, then city council ought to have waited on them before taking up the pilot program. As for Wilson’s response, that’s just bad government.
Since city council is heading into its summer recess, there’s little to be done before fall. So what lessons can we draw from this debacle?
First, if city council is going to task a committee with tackling an issue, then they ought to let them finish their job. Second, future pilot programs need to be treated as such — carefully measured experiments.
In this case, city council put the (food) cart before the horse.