The great food truck debate - first in Buffalo and now in Amherst - has all the makings of a civics lesson in government: archaic laws, special-interest lobbying, zealous enforcement, lawmaking and opaque motives.
And yes, folks, because it's New York State, there are also nonsensical fees.
That's what food truck pioneer Peter Cimino, purveyor of chimichurri chicken and tomatillo pork to go, discovered when his Lloyd Taco Truck was kicked out of an Amherst business park for serving lunch.
Turns out, while Amherst lawmakers have been contemplating updating the town laws to deal with food on wheels, the town's code enforcers have been diligently applying a "peddling and soliciting" law that requires a $100 fee per truck per location every three months.
They started enforcing the law so diligently, in fact, that a code enforcement officer brought in the police, who warned that if the taco truck didn't leave last week, it would be towed.
The kicker was this bit of information revealed by Buffalo News Reporter Sandra Tan: The anonymous complaint that started the food truck dispute was lodged by a town police officer who has relatives in the restaurant industry.
But back to that civics lesson. The confusion in Amherst mirrors a similar dispute a year ago when food trucks sought rules for operating in Buffalo.
Back then, the owners of Lloyd were part of an effort to persuade Common Council members to write a law that made it clear exactly where food trucks could serve their mobile cuisine.
No sooner was a proposal on the table than restaurant owners pulled the table cloth from under it. One executive told Common Council members food trucks would bring a scene "out of the wild, wild West."
This is textbook local democracy in action. One group wants change. The other doesn't want change in its backyard. Lawmakers are caught between two constituencies as they try to adapt old laws to new trends.
What was the answer? Compromise. Buffalo drew up a new law that allows food trucks to vend within the city for an annual $1,000 permit under certain conditions, including staying 100 feet from restaurants with open kitchens.
Restaurants got assurances they wouldn't find a food truck at their front door. The trucks eliminated the worry they'd get booted out in the middle of lunch. The city got a new fee.
Meanwhile, back in Amherst, lawmakers are at square one after deciding they needed new regulations to govern the growing food truck business.
Since then, food trucks have gotten caught up in a bureaucratic mess.
The code enforcer says he must administer the law as written. The Town Board must abide by rules that require adequate public notice for changing laws, and a proposal is at least a month away from consideration.
Amherst might learn a thing or two from Buffalo's food truck diplomacy.
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