Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Normally we don’t pay much attention to El Paso, Texas on this blog, except when their food vendor ordinance — similar to Worcester’s and passed around the same time — becomes the focus of a civil rights lawsuit which forces the city to change the law.
Officials made it illegal for vendors to operate within 1,000 feet of a restaurant or convenience store and prohibited vendors from stopping to await customers anywhere in the city. This successful constitutional challenge also marks the Institute’s first victory in its National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide litigation and activism effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living.
The ordinance, updated in August of 2009, is actually fairly stricter in El Paso than Worcester’s September 2008ordinance. Along with the 1,000 feet buffer from brick and mortar restaurants, El Paso food trucks could only stop when a customer saw them driving and flagged them down, much like you would a taxi. Worcester food carts need permission from abutters within 50 feet of their setup and any restaurants within 250 feet. In order to operate past midnight cart operators must receive written consent from the police chief.
But the heart of the issue is the same: do these regulations violate an entrepreneur’s rights? Again, the Institute of Justice on the El Paso developments:
The federal lawsuit challenged the old ordinance because it violates the vendors’ constitutional right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable and arbitrary government interference. The 1,000-foot separation requirement and the prohibition on waiting for customers curbside did nothing to protect public health or safety—they simply protected brick-and-mortar businesses from competition.
The El Paso city council voted on Tuesday to not only remove the 1,000 feet buffer zone, but also now allows food trucks to actually park even if customers aren’t already waiting for them. The city even threw in other changes, as reported by the El Paso Times.