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Penn and Food Trucks Collide
in a Vendor-Bender

You know an issue has really touched a nerve when ... 1) A groundbreaking ceremony for a major construction project is heckled by chanting protesters; 2) a neighborhood newspaper runs a front-page story titled "Penn -- butt out!"; 3) Penn puts together a Web site (http://www.upenn.edu/foodplaza) and a color brochure explaining its position, and invites two members of City Council to explain its position at a public meeting.
   All this over ... food trucks?
   The contretemps began this past spring when the University asked Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to introduce a bill that would regulate the 90 or so food vendors operating in the University City area. The bill's most controversial provision would limit the number of vending sites and prohibit the food trucks from parking along some of the streets surrounding Penn's campus. Instead, some of the trucks -- which are heavily used by Penn students, faculty, and staff -- would be confined to four off-street "Fresh Air Food Plazas," which are to be run by the University and will have outdoor seating. For a dollar a month, the vendors will get running water, electrical hookups, and garbage removal.

   The vendors -- who, according to the University, do a combined $12 million worth of business each year -- protested that they were being blindsided. As a result of the uproar, legislative action was postponed until this Fall. The vendors, as well as some Penn students and staff, believed that the administration was trying to push the ordinance through City Council at the beginning of summer, when most students had gone home.
   "The University felt they could sneak this past us," said Scott Goldstein, head of the University City Vendors Alliance. "They didn't have an alternative plan to that."
   Carol Scheman, Penn's vice president for government, community, and public affairs, said that while she took "full responsibility" for any miscommunications, she had in fact been keeping some vendors and the representatives of student organizations around campus informed of Penn's intentions.
   Now, Goldstein says he's "optimistic" about the final outcome, since the University "seems to be taking us more seriously" and is making more of an effort to listen and communicate its intentions.
   University administrators believe they have every right to regulate the vendors, especially in light of Penn's substantial commercial investments in the area and the fact that vendors are regulated in other parts of the city. The brochure put out by Penn says the ordinance would "not effectively reduce the overall number of vending locations throughout University City."
   "It's always been our intention to work out a reasonable solution," says Goldstein. Regulation is "very understandable, and I believe it is necessary for vendors to have some regulations."

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 9/26/97