Courtesy photo from Washington State Food Truck Association. From Food Truck Lobby Day.

Courtesy photo from Washington State Food Truck Association. From Food Truck Lobby Day.

Food truck owners at odds with RFA over fire safety bill in state Legislature

The bill would limit cities’ mobile vendor fire permit fees.

Food trucks are asking Renton Regional Fire Authority to support a bill that would turn fire permits to just one per year, instead of per city.

Not all cities currently charge a fee or do independent truck inspections. Seattle, SeaTac and Renton are among those who do, and food truck owners believe other cities will soon get on board.

For this reason, the bill asks for permit reciprocity that would mean an inspection in one city works in any other.

House Bill 1134 would set a standard for fire safety for mobile food vendors using the international fire code. But the bill isn’t currently supported by the State Fire Marshal’s Association or Renton RFA due to the aspect of permit reciprocity.

They would rather have a state agency inspecting if only a single statewide permit is being issued, RFA Fire Marshal Anjela St. John said.

This bill addresses food truck owners’ concerns with a statewide fire code taking affect July 1, 2020.

With that new state fire code, St. John said RFA would still want to inspect a few additional safety measures not mentioned, regarding combustible storefront canopies and separation between buildings and the food trucks. She said if they retained the ability to inspect those additional things, there would be a smaller inspection fee in Renton than the current $100.

St. John said they’re concerned for the safety of people in Renton, employees in the trucks, the storefronts they park by and also firefighters working around mobile food vendors.

Food trucks have come to Olympia before asking for standardization. In 2017 they began “Food Truck Lobby Day” organized by Washington State Food Truck Association.

The association’s Executive Director Lori Johnson said while food trucks are becoming very popular, a lack of consistent rules have hurt the industry.

For food truck owners, going through different inspections to drive around, with separate standards and fees as high as $422 in Seattle, is redundant and costly.

“With over 30-cities just in King County, you can see how expensive it would get for a food truck to buy a fire permit in each,” Johnson said. “These are small businesses that operate on very small margins.”

Food truck owners say it’s difficult to be charged at every corner. Many have taken to Twitter to ask for Renton’s support.

Pete Becker has co-owned KCDeez BBQ, a trailer with smoker on the back, for six years. They started in Renton off Rainier Avenue. They still do Renton Farmers Market.

Only three of the cities he currently serves require a fire permit, but he’s concerned more will start. He’s also concerned about how many different permits exist for a food truck.

“It’s not just this permit, it’s the way they’re corralling food trucks,” Becker said. “It deters food trucks from moving around and going to other cities.”

Turan and Mindy Wright own Silver Spork food truck, that they run in the evenings and weekends on top of their regular jobs. They go to about 10 cities in King County. Mindy Wright estimates they pay about $2,000 in permit fees per year.

They would like to see a statewide standard of safety, even if it’s the highest standard. Mindy Wright said they currently have four types of fire extinguishers in their truck because Auburn and Renton require different ones. It really comes down to disparities in inspections.

St. John said they are concerned that other cities with unknown fire standards could give a inspection and then Renton would have to accept it. Inspections vary greatly, according to some food trucks owners.

Turan Wright said he believes food trucks shouldn’t be punished with multiple fines just because one city doesn’t have thorough inspections.

“They should just have multiple, certified places for trucks to go,” Turan Wright said. “It gets to be silly, like are they looking for safety or just dollars?”

St. John said RFA is supportive of having one inspection done by a state agency, but that is not the current wording of the bill. She would still want to inspect once a truck sets up in a Renton location.

“One of the things we’ve seen is extension cords spliced into an electrical system. That’s not a thing seen in a state inspection so there’s still work required for a local jurisdiction when a food truck sets up,” St. John said. “We need to retain the ability to do that and there has to be a way to fund that.”

Food truck owners have also said they would support the inspection being done by a state agency, as long as it cuts the redundancy in fees.

Around the same time food trucks started making their way to Renton, a large mobile food vendor explosion happened in Philadelphia. With that in mind, RFA began to inspect local food trucks and St. John said they found fire safety concerns. Then they created the $100 permit and inspection fee.

St. John said now there is still a mix of trucks that pass their inspection.

In a previous interview with Renton Reporter from May 2018, Johnson said Renton’s city codes weren’t food truck friendly at the time.

The city recently approved an ordinance to simplify the permitting process for food trucks. It allows trucks operating in certain industrial and commercial zones to not need a temporary use permit in certain conditions. It also allows food trucks to use street parking.

That policy update had been in the works since the city decided to make food trucks part of improvements to the downtown core.

Renton Deputy Public Affairs Administrator Preeti Shridhar said this new code is meant to encourage economic activity and allow more mobile food vendors in the downtown business district.

After a meeting with food truck industry members and fire marshals, St. John said she felt everyone understood the concerns on all sides. She was hopeful new language establishing a state agency inspection, instead of one city, would be included in the bill.

The bill had its first reading Jan. 15. A public hearing in the House Committee on Local Government is scheduled for 10 a.m., Feb. 1 in Olympia. The bill can be read here.

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