Presser Notes: Ida, COVID & Food Truck Banishment

by Jeremy Morrison

Weird accidents over the weekend; insurers’ role in vaccinations; Food trucks pushed off city streets

With Hurricane Ida hitting well to the west of Pensacola, Mayor Grover Robinson said there was still cause for caution.

“Ida has weakened into a tropical storm, but again, here in Northwest Florida, we continue to experience tropical storm conditions, both in rain, some wind and coastal flooding,” the mayor said during his regular Monday press conference.

While the city saw no significant impact from Ida, the mayor did rundown a trio of occurrences that did unfold over the weekend. The first two are still under investigation, and the third is being handled.

First, a fatal wreck at Maritime Park, where the driver was killed, is still being investigated. Second, and also under investigation, an incident at the Pensacola International Airport involved a rental car catching on fire; the Pensacola Police Department rescued two passengers, while the Pensacola Fire Department put out the vehicle fire.

The third incident involved a project at Mallory Park, where clay had recently been put down in preparation for the park’s soccer fields. With the rains blowing through with Ida, some of that clay has now washed away.

“They should have certainly silt-fenced that, knowing some of the conditions that we were going to be experiencing,” Mayor Robinson said, explaining how the clay had “migrated with the rain” and how the city is currently “working to and efforting to making it as clean as possible there, what may have gotten in the stormwater.”

Will Insurers Push Vaccines?

In this week’s COVID rundown, Mayor Robinson clung to the silver lining: a slight decrease in both positivity rate and hospitalization numbers.

“We hope this is going to be a signal of some things that are heading us in the right direction,” Robinson said.

But the forecast is far from sunny. That positivity rate is only down to 20 percent, and while local hospitalizations have mercifully fallen to 356 as of Monday, that’s down from a record high of 398 last week.

“Obviously, that’s still high,” Robinson said, noting that anything over 200 hospitalizations would be considered unsustainable, and we’re “a long way from getting in the clear.”

“We’re incredibly stretched right now,” the mayor said. “All the hospital administrators say, ‘Listen, we can’t sustain this.’”

As usual, the mayor pushed vaccinations as the best way to level off these numbers. He said the city has continued to urge employees to get vaccinated — bringing vaccination operations to city facilities to make it convenient and offering financial incentives as well — and that thus far, 10 percent of its workforce had received a COVID vaccine.

“We’d love to see another 10 percent come forward,” Robinson said.

Considering the area’s low vaccination numbers in general, coupled with the high number of COVID cases and hospitalizations, the latter consisting primarily of unvaccinated patients, the mayor said he didn’t understand why more people weren’t getting a vaccine:

“I don’t know why more people; it hasn’t dawned on them to get vaccinated,” Robinson said. “But I think it’s become a variety of other issues. It hasn’t become about health; it’s become about politics and belief. It’s just — those things are tougher to deal with. And so I think it’s just been a tougher situation.”

Soon, the mayor predicted — “reading the tea leaves” — everything will boil down to the bottom line. In this case, the bottom line of insurance companies, which he expects to begin pushing customers to get vaccinated based on the fact that unvaccinated people will cost more money when it comes to healthcare: “I don’t think elected officials are that powerful, but insurance companies are dadgum powerful, and they can find a way to hit you in the wallet. I think that’s what we’re going to see.”

“I think, ultimately, in the end, it is going to come down to money,” the mayor said. “I mean, everything in America seems to come down to money, and I think at that point, as I’ve said before, insurance companies are ruthlessly efficient.”

Food Truck Limbo

For a while now, patrons of various local establishments that don’t themselves serve food, such as breweries, have been able to step outside to the curb and order something to eat from a food truck. The food truck is there for a few hours, typically during peak business hours, then gone.

This arrangement has seemed to work until earlier this month. That’s when Councilwoman Ann Hill brought up the issue to Mayor Robinson. He soon discovered that according to city ordinance — albeit an ordinance the city had not been actively enforcing — the food trucks were not allowed to operate in the public right of way.

“At that point, I simply thought, for sure, if a council member is asking us to enforce a council initiative, we should be doing that,” the mayor said.

So, now, the city does not allow anyone to park on public property, including parking areas, for commercial purposes. The ordinance pertains to items such as vehicles for sale but also includes food trucks.

“This past weekend, we have not fined anybody or anything else; we want to make people aware of what the rule was. I think this weekend we will be out there fining people on public property. It is the law by ordinance,” Robinson said.

The mayor clarified that the city was not changing existing rules but rather shifting the municipal response. He also pointed to a local mobile establishment that has already evolved into a permanent fixture on a fixed, private site.

“Even Nomadic Eats, they now have a parking lot that’s on private property; they have their food truck on a private property,” Mayor Robinson said. “So, even the nomads have found a place on private property.”

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6 thoughts on “Presser Notes: Ida, COVID & Food Truck Banishment

  1. Well, when you can draw a straight line from 20+ years of republican control of the state government and the issues I referred to, it IS about party.

    If the stereotype fits….

  2. Time marches on has to make everything about party or ad hominem stereotyping shaming arguments. Sounds like someone I know. Smart but not wise.

  3. Re: Preemption by the state over locals:

    “Conservative” republicans sure have centralized state government in the past 20 years. I thought small government with local control was a core belief of that crowd.

    Apparently, they want to tell us where food trucks can operate, who can require masks, dictate local zoning decisions, violate the State Constitution with impunity, and force their own personal, non-scientific restrictions on international businesses.

    DeSantis and the republicans have got to go.

  4. Jim Little at the PNJ has posted a very good story online about the food truck issue. https://www.pnj.com/story/entertainment/dining/2021/08/31/pensacola-cracks-down-food-trucks-operating-public-parking-spaces/5655499001/ Jake Newby at the PNJ wrote a very good story about the local operation of food trucks. It was published on February 7, 2021. Little identifies the city law now in question as Section 12-3-65. Really? Until now, I had assumed that the term “merchandise” as used in the law was meant to be consistent with the rest of the city code that uses such phrases as “goods or merchandise” or “buying and selling and dealing in the goods or merchandise.” I never imagined it included prepared food. So when my wife and I ate at Global Grill a few weeks ago, we were eating “merchandise”? Council Staff and the City Clerk can pull the council memorandums and other public records to include legal opinions to assess if the council intended the word “merchandise” to incorporate food prepared on site. I’d have thought they intended to regular the sale of counterfeit goods and merchandise like shoes, clothing and jewelry. I don’t specifically recall the applicability of Section 12-3-65 coming up during the council’s debate about food trucks in 2015 and 2016. If you adopt Mayor Robinson’s reading of Section 12-3-65, Mayor Hayward violated the law when he allowed food trucks to operate out of the city hall parking lot. Rusty Wells has files on everything and every one in city hall. Maybe he knows. As an interesting twist I have not yet seen discussed, the Florida Legislature adopted a new law in 2020 that in part does the following: “The bill preempts the regulation, licensing, registration, permitting, and fees for mobile food dispensing vehicles (food trucks) to the state.” The bill analysis adds that a local government entity may not “prohibit mobile food dispensing vehicles from operating within the entity of the entity’s jurisdiction.” The law in question and that became effective on July 1, 2020 is Section 509.102 Mobile Food Dispensing Vehicles; Preemption. State Representatives Andrade and Hill and Senator Broxson all voted YES. They might know the the intent of the preemption was to prohibit a city from telling a food truck operator where they can and cannot operate. The city is getting a new city attorney in a few weeks. Might be reasonable to do is to let things lie as they are for a few weeks until he can review things and present a legal opinion.

  5. To this “I don’t know why more people; it hasn’t dawned on them to get vaccinated,” Robinson said.”
    And also to the mask mandate wars in the schools ;

    I have never in my life been so flabbergasted about anything like this resistance to what I consider common sense measures. I have been ruminating over it and reading articles as I pose those questions to the universe (internet) and wonder what is to be done about it.

    There are laws in place from our past public health challenges and it is clear the duty of our government is to protect the public health.

    I do believe we are in the golden age of stupidity.

    The Department of Health will be the ones to mandate vaccines for the schools. Tim Smith just needs to implement the mask policy. — Cut through the red tape and step up to the plate.

    I think the internet/social media/tribalism has contributed to people to thinking they are more informed than they actuallyare. It’s a complex subject to try to unravel their thinking.

    “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
    ― Mark Twain

    We need strong smart brave leaders to act. They need not fear litigation.

    Corcoran and DeSantis are not doing a good job here. Simple as that. Are they able to realize they have made a mistake? Change course?

    “Logic clearly dictates the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” — Dr Spock
    “Or the one” — Captain Kirk ;)

    Part of the problems we are facing with the public health crisis is many don’t have that mindset. At times rugged individualism is useful, yet during a highly contagious public health crisis, that will be their downfall.

    Some may have to learn the hard way.

  6. Food Truck Limbo: “‘I think this weekend we will be out there fining people on public property. It is the law by ordinance,’ Robinson said.” Which ordinance are we talking about (the report above does not say) and what is the penalty for violating it? If the ordinance is Section 11-4-2, is the penalty for violating it up to a $500 dollar fine and/or up to 60 days in jail? Section 11-4-2 from 1987 describes a permit process. Does it exist? A better solution specific to this issue might be to amend Section 12-11-7. Create a new subsection (f) to allow business owners that do “not” serve food to apply for a permit to allow food trucks to operate in the public right-of-way out in front of the business. The business would hold the permit making things simpler for the food trucks. It would be up to the business to decide which food trucks were allowed to park in front of its business.

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