Debunking & Contextualizing Claims About Proposed Chicago Food Truck Ordinance Amendments

by Alex Levine, July 16, 2012

This is a momentous week for Chicago and our food trucks. Our legislators will hear us out on Thursday at city hall, then they have the opportunity to amend the food truck ordinance before it goes up for vote the following Thursday.

 

Claims and distorted truths are being perpetuated by the city and our elected officials, and we wanted to boil down the situation and what’s being said about it for those who don’t spend hours on end knee-deep in this stuff like we do.

 

Note: Mentions of the “200ft ban” are in reference to the part in the ordinance that requires food trucks to serve 200+ feet from any bricks-and-mortar food vendor: fine dining restaurants, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, etc. This remains the main point of contention in the existing ordinance. Here’s a map that shows where that leaves them to park downtown: 

 

“My administration is committed to common-sense changes [regarding mobile food ordinances]“ - Mayor Emanuel

Source: City press release
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  • Allowing food trucks to operate 24/7
  • Allowing food trucks to prepare and serve fresh food to order, including “adding ketchup to their food

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  • Fining a food truck for selling a cupcake nearby a restaurant significantly more than a person found in possession of pot
  • Allocating city resources to enforce buffer zones between food vendors when violent crime rates are soaring
  • The mayor’s proposed ordinance potentially quadruples fines for food trucks too close to restaurants. This change doesn’t seem to be linked to any health and safety issues , but rather a convoluted & ineffective way of enforcing the 200ft ban. Also, it may be designed for the city to be able to go back to restaurant owners as evidence of compromise; the law doesn’t exist to mediate emotions nor private interests.
  • The ordinance maintains the 2 hour serving maximum in any 1 parking spot. According to Greg Kettles from the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, having trucks up and move every couple hours poses a greater safety risk than if they were to stay put for longer (which is why L.A. doesn’t have such a law)
  • Monitoring food truck businesses in good standing as stringently as convicted DUI offenders who are made to wear ankle bracelets. The city said, “Food truck operators will be required to use mounted GPS devices in each truck so that the City and consumers may track their locations.”
  • Decriminalizing weed possession in part because it’s unenforceable (for different reasons than this ordinance), but simultaneously proposing legislation that has the same enforcement issues

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“You voted an idea called ‘Free our Food Trucks’ to the top during our last AskChicago Facebook Town Hall. We’re excited to say that Mayor is rolling out an ordinance during City Council tomorrow that will do exactly that.” – The Mayor’s Office

(Source: Chicago Mayor’s Office Facebook Post, in which they also reference this poll)

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  • Proposed legislation allows food trucks to prepare, cook and serve food from the truck
  • The city amended the current 10am-10pm time restrictions to allow trucks to operate 24/7

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  • As pointed out by many Facebookers in the comments on that post, this legislation does not accomplish what the city claims here that it does
  • “The City shouldn’t be sheltering certain businesses at the expense of others” – Jared, Facebook commenter
  • “The ordinance is really a cop-out. Particularly when you compare it to cities like NY and LA… why the half measures? Where is the boldness?.” Rob, Facebook commenter
  • “I wouldn’t brag about this ordinance.” – Sandra, Facebook commenter

 

Those who choose to open up a brick-and-mortar restaurant pay property taxes for their facilities. What do these taxes afford them?

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  • Shelter for their patrons from the elements
  • Seating and tables for comfortable dining
  • A fixed address for their customers to find them at any time
  • Ability to prepare and serve food in large volumes [/list] [list style="cross"]
  • Ownership of public parking spaces and walkways surrounding their facility
  • Rights to influence or dictate which businesses open shop in their vicinity

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What are acceptable uses of our tax dollars?

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  • Enforcing the same health code standards on food trucks as restaurants & fast food facilities
  • Ensuring all business owners are operating in a manner that’s safe for the public [/list] [list style="cross"]
  • Attempting to enforce an ordinance that, at best, can only feebly be enforced
  • Policing cupcake sales instead of serious crimes

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Are our elected officials acting in accordance with the constitution and in the best interest of the city?

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  • Amending existing legislation to adapt to the city’s evolving business landscape
  • Amending legislation that is unconstitutional (IF they eliminate the 200 foot distance ban from the proposed ordinance)
  • Addressing the top issues voters are concerned about [/list] [list style="cross"]
  • “This new food truck ordinance has a significant number of reforms, which … were stablished to ensure public safety, dispel the competitive concerns of established businesses” - Alderman Moreno. Here, Moreno concedes that this legislation is a compromise between food truck owners and restaurants, meaning they’re appeasing the competitive fears of restaurant owners, which has nothing to do with public health and safety. That’s unethical and unconstitutional. The city and food trucks are pretty much on the same page when it comes to complying with health and safety standards already in place for regulating the food service industry, so there isn’t much disagreement (or thus need to “compromise”) in that regard.
  • Oppress an industry that could create jobs for Chicagoans in order to protect the pockets of a private interest group
  • “It’s my opinion, and I think the opinion of the Illinois Supreme Court, that (buffer zones) are clearly in place to protect some businesses from other businesses,” said Kregor, who directs the clinic in Chicago. “They play no role in health and safety regulation and therefore are unconstitutional.”
  • Mayor Emanuel also conceded that the buffer zone is a business v. business compromise, not an issue of health and safety. He said, “But 200 [feet] seems to be the right place to strike, what I would call, the golden mean balance between the bricks and mortars and the trucks.”
  • The 200ft distance ordinance greatly limits the ability for trucks to supply the widespread demand that there is for food trucks. Chicago’s gourmet food trucks are hidden from the general public. This means that it greatly decreases the possibility of serving tourists and Chicagoans alike since they’re unseen; 31.9% of Chicagoans happen upon trucks, which is nearly half of the national average of 60%. It also prevents those who actively follow these trucks online from being able to access the trucks
  • The city is proposing to allow trucks to cook on board, which could potentially create jobs. However, if the truck can’t go where the consumers are, it is unlikely that many additional jobs will be created. Think of it this way: if you are in Chicago and Donald Trump says to you “If you get to Los Angeles, CA in the next 10 minutes, I will give you a million dollars.” While technically he is offering to give you a million dollars, there is no feasible way to attain it since it’s a physical impossibility to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles in 10 minutes. So, his offer would be a vain one (most likely done to maintain a certain image). There are a lot of parallels between this hypothetical and the city’s current strategy.Don’t be fooled by comments from the city that are meant to lead us to believe otherwise. Alderman Tom Tunney said, “I’m proud that we were able to bring so many stakeholders to the table to reach this compromise, to support this innovative industry right alongside  our world-renown restaurants,” said Alderman Tom Tunney. Orly? If they’re referencing the truck stands here, consider this: they’re proposing 60 spots for the 200 licenses they plan to issue. If you have a banquet with 200 guests and only provide seats at the table for 60, do you consider that sufficient? Would you tell the other 140 to be grateful that they were invited in the first place, and by the way there are a few crackers left at the table in the corner?

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Disclaimer: This is my opinion…plus lots of quotes and facts.

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