On Dec. 6, the Seattle City Council Transportation and Utilities committee approved an ordinance that would extend the city’s street cafe program and allow for more food trucks in curbside spaces. The legislation, drafted by Councilmember Dan Strauss’s office in coordination with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), is intended to permanently renew the city’s existing street cafe program, which was expanded in June 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the street cafe program has been around for years, it took on new meaning during the pandemic when businesses sought to continue operations while adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Ordinarily, curb space adjacent to the street has been reserved for parking. The expanded program enabled businesses to establish permanent open-air seating in these spaces for a fee, which was waived during the pandemic emergency.
According to a presentation from SDOT, the program saw significant success and a positive reception from community members and business owners. In 2021, the department conducted a survey that showed that 90 percent of respondents supported cafes on sidewalks and in curb spaces. Eighty-nine percent of respondents supported allowing food trucks to operate in curb spaces, and 83 percent support sidewalk food carts.
In addition to extending the COVID-19 street cafe pilot, the proposed ordinance would also streamline the process for food trucks to vend from the curbside, particularly in conjunction with other businesses, such as bars and breweries. Notably, it eliminates the rule that requires food trucks to operate at least 50 feet away from an established, permanent location restaurant.
The legislation also clarifies rules and regulations around commercial curb and sidewalk space use and reduces the base startup fees for a street cafe from the pre-pandemic rate of $3,000 to $1,220.
Concerns about how the new fee structure would impact food trucks remain. Councilmember Tammy Morales expressed hope that the city could address other onerous fees in the future, with the goal of reducing burdens levied on food trucks. One significant improvement in the proposed ordinance is that it would eliminate an hourly review fee imposed on street vendors, instead incorporating it into the issuance fee.
On the other hand, Chair Alex Pedersen expressed skepticism about eliminating the 50-foot food truck rule. Initially, he proposed an amendment to preserve the distance requirement. Pedersen did not follow up with this amendment, instead opting to ask SDOT to prepare a report by 2024 about the impact of the legislation. The proposed ordinance was approved by the City Council on Dec. 13 and is set to take effect in January 2023.
Read more of the Dec. 14-20, 2022 issue.