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Downtown food truck changes welcome

The City Council took a big step last week when councilors voted to dramatically expand food truck operations by issuing three new kinds of permits. The changes will go a long way toward making downtown a more vibrant, welcoming place.

More than three years ago, a downtown nightclub owner asked a food truck operator to set up outside late on Friday and Saturday nights because the club was shutting down its kitchen earlier. Unfortunately, parking a food truck on a city street, even after 11 p.m., violated city code. We urged the city at the time to amend the code to allow such operation. Finally, last week, the City Council voted to create a new permit allowing trucks to serve from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.

But the new ordinance, taking effect Nov. 1, goes much further than that.

A second new permit will allow trucks with existing permits to park in the same location on private property for five days at a time. Existing rules require the trucks to move every night, creating a headache for weary operators who must pack up everything only to return and set up again the next morning.

A third permit will allow a land-use process to hook up utilities to a food truck, making a more permanent installation.

All three changes will bring downtown Medford into line with other cities, where food-truck spaces have become popular gathering places and expanded lunch options for downtown workers and shoppers.

Operators of brick-and-mortar restaurants tend to view food trucks as unwelcome competitors that don’t have to pay rent and other overhead costs. But food-truck dining is not everyone’s cup of noodles, especially in inclement weather. And collections of food trucks in other cities don’t seem to have driven traditional restaurants out of business.

The late-night street permits should especially beneficial, with food trucks serving after indoor restaurants have closed, offering downtown revelers a place to get food after hours. Food tends to soak up alcohol, and encourages patrons to hang around longer before driving home, which is a good thing for everyone. In addition, nightclub workers have an opportunity to get a meal when their shift ends and options are limited.

Visitors to Portland have long enjoyed the food truck pods in that city’s downtown. Medford is late to the party, but smart to encourage the trend here.