Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s phone was blowing up. People were upset over a pending ordinance that would have changed the way Drexel food trucks operate, and they weren’t shy about letting the author of that legislation know.
“My phone was blowing up — is that what they call it? My phone network was destroyed,” she told Billy Penn in a phone interview. “They notified me via email. They notified me via Facebook. They texted me. They tweeted me. Every way people could notify me, they did.”
On Wednesday evening, she sought to calm the public outrcy. Blackwell announced that she would pull back on the proposed changes, which, among other regulations, would have capped the number of allowed vendors to 25 and required them to vend in static, fee-licensed locations.
“There will be no further action toward changing the existing [street vendor] structure,” she wrote on Facebook.
So is the bill dead? Not exactly, Blackwell clarified. The bill will remain in committee until it can be amended in a way that satisfies all involved parties.
But, “if we can’t amend it, we’ll drop it,” the councilwoman said. “It’s not worth changing things if you displease people. That’s my philosophy. Unless you’re making things better, you might as well leave them as they exist.”
Of course, “making things better” is a subjective term. Many observers guessed Drexel University was behind the legislation and had pushed for its introduction. One suggested motivation was that perhaps the administration was upset food trucks were creating too much competition for official University-run dining options. Billy Penn’s on-the-street interviews with the lunchtime crowd confirmed trucks were widely viewed as being superior to campus walk-in restaurants on price, quality and variety.
Another was that Drexel president John Fry simply harbors a dislike of street vendors — “I don’t do lunch trucks,” he once told The Triangle newspaper. That publication, which is Drexel University’s official paper of record, recently came out against the bill, writing that a highly-regulated Drexel University District for street vendors would crush the “vibrant and popular food truck scene” there.
Asked directly where the idea for the ordinance came from in the first place, Blackwell did not hesitate.
“It came from Drexel.”
While acknowledging that social media has made it easier than ever, Blackwell is used to receiving constituent feedback, and in fact relies on it. She’s been councilwoman for Philadelphia’s 3rd District since 1992, when she replaced her husband, the late Lucien “The Solution” Blackwell. The district covers much of West Philadelphia — including University City — and residents there aren’t afraid to speak their mind, she said.
“In the 3rd District, people let you know how they feel. You can’t make a mistake, because people will let you know. It’s what I like about local politics,” she continued. “I talked to so many people, from the people who build [trucks] to people who are vendors to people who’d like to be vendors.”
One person she has not yet spoken with is Rob Mitchell, president of the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association, which was founded in 2012 to represent food truck and cart owners’ interests and now counts approximately 75 members.
“I’ve been trying to get a meeting with her since before this bill was introduced,” Mitchell told Billy Penn.
That meeting is likely coming soon.
“I’ve been hearing his name,” Blackwell said. “I would definitely like to meet.”