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Editorial: Westwood association must rethink food truck parking policies

By Editorial Board

Feb. 15, 2017 8:00 p.m.

The food truck business can be tough – especially when the neighborhood doesn’t consider it a real business.

The Westwood Village Improvement Association is considering a parking law change to crack down on food trucks in Westwood. Under the proposed change, which will be voted on Thursday, traffic officers would be able to give food trucks multiple parking tickets for remaining in the same spot past the two-hour limit. The association hopes this will provide a greater deterrence than the single parking ticket currently allowed.

The association is mistaking opportunity for misfortune, however. Rather than trying to deter food trucks from operating in the neighborhood, it should look into ways to incorporate them into the Village and help them improve Westwood’s business climate.

For reference, Andrew Thomas, the association’s executive director, said food trucks do not contribute to the community like brick-and-mortar property owners do. He added food trucks’ transitory nature keeps them from becoming invested in the neighborhood’s wellbeing.

He’s right that permanent businesses help the neighborhood’s vitality. After all, they pay an annual assessment fee that funds the association’s $1 million budget, and are responsible for maintaining nearby street lights and adhering to Westwood’s architectural aesthetic. But food trucks bring in extra foot traffic and can help drum up business for nearby stores. They also provide convenient food options for people who may be in a hurry, like college students stressing over midterms.

[Related: Westwood officials working to tighten food truck parking ticket laws]

Food trucks also have the potential to contribute to the neighborhood’s character and cohesion – just like any other permanent business. The association is myopic in overlooking the benefits of allowing food trucks to operate in Westwood. And when it comes to improving the Village, shutting your eyes from opportunity is the last thing you want to do.

The association needs to scrap the parking law change and instead look to ways it can capitalize on food truck businesses. One way of doing this would be to pursue a new rule in which food trucks pay a permit fee to operate in Westwood. The permit would allow the association greater control over how many and what kinds of food trucks are in the neighborhood, while still allowing the vendors the freedom to do business on our streets.

Of course, it’s certainly a valid concern that food trucks sacrifice parking spots that could otherwise be taken by visitors. But there are a few locales in the Village – the wide streets of Broxton Avenue and the northern end of Westwood Boulevard, for example – that could accommodate these trucks without too much impact on the neighborhood’s parking.

In exchange, the food trucks can continue to operate in designated areas, attract more customers to Westwood and – most importantly – get them to stay long enough to patronize other local stores. However, the association’s proposed law would throw all these exciting possibilities out the window.

At a time when Westwood is trying to bring more businesses and customers into a revitalized commercial district, the association should work toward incorporating food trucks into that plan. They have a lot to offer Westwood – and not just cheap eats.

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