On July 25th, after a year-long Campaign by the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, the New Orleans City Council passed legislation that adds more licenses for mobile vendors, expands locations, and allows for longer operating hours.
“I want food trucks” attracted 50 me too’s faster than any idea ever posted on Neighborland. Like many of the most successful ideas on the site, it was a known issue that several organizations were working to solve. Support quickly evolved into a discussion around the root causes of the problem. Antiquated regulations from the 1950s were suffocating the growth of the mobile food industry.
We helped organize a simple meeting of mobile vendors to discuss how the laws could be changed. This small group formed a coalition that established the common goal of achieving legal reform. Rachel Billow, owner of food truck La Cocinta, was chosen to lead the group. With the help of legal counsel Andrew Legrand, the group formed a 501(c)6 Trade Association called the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition. We supported a few of the NOFTC’s early events with our time, including a $500 community grant through the GOOD Ideas for New Orleans workshop.
The strategy of the NOFTC was to: advocate for reform of existing ordinances governing the operations and permitting of vendors in New Orleans; increase awareness among the public about the growing food truck industry in New Orleans; educate stakeholders and community members about the beneﬁts of food trucks and dispel myths; and to work creatively to help enforcement of overhauled laws, leveraging both operators and the public. The coalition worked closely with The Institute for Justice, a D.C.-based public interest law ﬁrm that has advocated for mobile vendors in many U.S. cities.
The NOFTC organized events like the Food Truck Roundup as well asthe first rally at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in Central City. “Over 500 people came to hear about the movement and eat from the trucks. This event got members of the community excited about food trucks and eager to get involved,” Billow said. As more residents joined the Campaign, Neighborland provided a page to keep the conversation going and update supporters with events, resources, and petitions. As the Campaign grew in popularity, Neighborland couldn’t provide all of the capabilities that the NOFTC needed. Those unmet needs have shaped where we are headed with our Campaigns tool.
After the NOFTC presented the issue formally to City Council President Stacy Head, she sponsored the first piece of reform legislation in February of 2013. The NOFTC invited supporters to New Orleans City Hall to demonstrate their support in person. Although the initial measure didn’t pass, presenting the request formally was a pivotal step in taking the issue public. “This is right around the time when the media attention really started focusing on the case,” Billow said.
For next several months, Councilwoman Head worked with the NOFTC, city leaders, and opponents of the original proposal to draft an acceptable compromise. On July 24, 2013, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-0 to approve an ordinance backed by Mayor Landrieu to authorize more trucks, expand the area where food can be sold and hours for people operating the businesses. With respect to the final legislation, Billow says, “The laws should continue to evolve as the food truck scene develops … but for now, this is a substantial step toward reform.”
Return on Engagement
How should an organization measure a “return on investment” that accounts for their time, social and intellectual capital, and money spent on a campaign? For example, how would the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition quantify the the thousands of hours spent collectively by their volunteers over their 18 month campaign? If the startup cost of a new food truck is $50-200k, could the gross economic impact of 100 additional permits be five to twenty million dollars over the next 3 to 5 years? At $2500 per truck, fees paid to the City of New Orleans could be as much as $250,000 in recurring annual revenue. $10m to $15m in net economic impact seems like a successful result of the NOFTC’s campaign.
Perhaps more importantly, how should we measure the social impact of new mobile vendors providing food services in neighborhoods with limited options for residents? And how should a city like New Orleans measure the capacity of a passionate, committed group of engaged residents to organize and change laws for the better? As we work more closely with organizations in 2014, we will continue to share our thoughts on a new framework for measuring both the economic and social impact of civic engagement.