Food truck parking, outdoor smoking ban, trans fat ban pass Cleveland City Council Monday night

CLEVELAND - Cleveland City Council passed three highly-publicized bills Monday night that will allow food trucks downtown, ban smoking in city-owned outdoor areas and ban trans fats in prepared food.

"We are going to make this city healthier," said Councilman Joe Cimperman, who sponsored all three bills.

FOOD TRUCKS

The first to pass through all committees Monday was the food truck ordinance. The new law allows food trucks to park in two designated areas in the downtown business district, which is prohibited by current law.

Food truck parking became a hot issue on April 7 when the owner of Dim and Den Sum pleaded publically via social media for the city to speed up its work in making downtown parking possible. The owner said a bulk of his business comes from downtown patrons and the restriction could put him out of business within three weeks.

The bill to change parking for food trucks was introduced Feb. 16, but had to go through multiple committees before being presented to the full council.

While this issue was being considered by the city, Cuyahoga County officials stepped in last week and announced a place for food trucks to park on county property downtown. No bill was required in this case.

While popular with many downtown workers and residents, food trucks have been a point of contention for city restaurants still trying to emerge from the recession and the drastic decrease in Cleveland's population.

At Vincenza's Pizza, a popular lunch spot, owners have noticed a 20 to 30 percent decline in business since the recession.

"The number of people downtown is just not what it used to be even three or four years ago," said owner Anthony Turchi.

The food truck ordinance includes a six-month sunset provision that requires council to re-approve the measure and allows members to assess the impact on downtown restaurants.

THE BANS

The bans on outdoor smoking and trans fats, collectively known as the Healthy Cleveland Initiative, sparked a debate on how best to balance public health and private choice and changes in the wording of both bills continued until the final vote.

"There is a line between regulation and education and I'm comfortable that we've drawn that line," said Councilman Jeff Johnson.

But not everyone on council agreed.

Councilman Tony Bracatelli and Majority Leader Phyllis Cleveland opposed the outdoor smoking bill. Cleveland also voted against the ban on trans fats.

"With both these pieces, I believe they're a bit intrusive. They smack of Big Brother to me," said Cleveland.

The outdoor smoking ban also passed a council vote Monday night. The ordinance designates these public places as non-smoking:
- City-owned public parks
- City-owned outdoor recreation areas
- City-owned swimming pools
- Picnic shelters within city-owned parks & recreation areas
- Public Square
- Downtown malls open to the public
- Defined areas adjacent to city-owned buildings that are used by the public

But amendments were made Monday morning to add exceptions to the ban, where smoking will still be permitted:
- Cemeteries
- City owned golf courses
- North Coast Harbor
- 9th Street Pier
- City fishing piers on the lake
- Voinovich Park

Violators of the outdoor smoking ban will pay a hefty fee, if caught more than once:
- 1st offense is a warning
- 2nd offense is $150
- 3rd + offense is $250

The outdoor smoking ban will take effect in 30 days.

The third major issue that was on the table for Monday night's meeting and passed was a ban on trans fat for prepared foods .

The legislation calls for no foods containing artificial trans fat "shall be stored, distributed, held for service, used in preparation of any menu item or served in any food shop." The only exception to this proposal is food served in the manufacturer's original sealed package.

Any violations to the law would be considered civil, not criminal. This law will take effect July 1, 2013, and the city will work with affected businesses with the transition.

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