Judge upholds onerous Chicago food truck rules

Hilary Gowins

VP of comms @illinoispolicy. Likes dogs and basketball.

Hilary Gowins
December 5, 2016

Judge upholds onerous Chicago food truck rules

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos squelched a ray of hope for Chicago food trucks Dec. 5 as the court upheld two of the city’s most oppressive regulations. In recent weeks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been coming after these small-business owners. But they’ve faced the city’s wrath for years, even after City Council...

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos squelched a ray of hope for Chicago food trucks Dec. 5 as the court upheld two of the city’s most oppressive regulations.

In recent weeks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been coming after these small-business owners. But they’ve faced the city’s wrath for years, even after City Council passed rules “legitimizing” the industry in 2012.

In the aftermath of the Circuit Court ruling, food trucks must still operate under protectionist rules. Vendors still:

  • Can’t operate within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar business that sells food (including anything from McDonald’s to CVS)
  • Have to be on the move every two hours (it takes about this long just to set up and tear down for the day)
  • Must plug in a GPS tracker to let the government know where they are

City government in Chicago, a town with a rich food culture, has been unwelcoming to food trucks. Food trucks can park legally by just 3 percent of curbs in the Loop, the city’s busiest weekday lunch district, according to analysis from the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based litigation group that represents food truck owners in the lawsuit against the city.

Food trucks have become an easy target for politicians and insiders because they threaten the status quo. For many years, the restaurant industry has propped up friendly politicians with campaign cash and support. In return, restaurants get preferential treatment.

Restaurants, and groups and individuals affiliated with them, gave total campaign donations worth $180,926 to Chicago aldermen in 2015, according to Illinois State Board of Elections data compiled by the Chicago watchdogs at Project Six. This figure doesn’t include some restaurant owners or lobbyists, who likely donate under other names or entities.

“The people obviously want food trucks and line up for us. They want more,” said Jacob Rush, co-founder of Bruges Brothers food truck. “But to think that every business is looking over their shoulder every day for another beat cop to put a boot on a truck, waiting for a new regulation, waiting for a new license fee or tax that could hamper our business … it’s baffling.”

The Circuit Court’s ruling means life will continue to be difficult for mobile food entrepreneurs in Chicago.

An appeal has not yet been announced, but is likely, and would go to the First District Appellate Court.

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