Chicago Food Truck Plan Gains Mobility

Kap Pitarys (cq) orders from Aaron Ramirez (cq) inside the Taquero Fusion truck at Ethyls Truckin Thursdays in Chicago's West Loop

By Monica Eng | ChicagoTribune

Aaron Ramirez inside the Taquero Fusion truck in Chicago’s

A Chicago ordinance that would allow cooks to prepare fresh meals from food trucks appears ready to move forward in the City Council with new provisions and the endorsement of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The ordinance would create loading zone-like “food truck stands” across the city that would allow up to two trucks to park for two hours at a time. Trucks could also park on private property with permission or in legal parking spaces across the city as long as they were at least 200 feet away from a retail food establishment — a restriction that would not apply to the spots that would serve as truck stands.

Emanuel’s office said Monday that the new draft of the proposed ordinance, which had been idling in a City Council committee for a year, aimed to legalize food trucks — which have been popular in several other U.S. cities — while protecting the interests of brick-and-mortar restaurant operators. The trucks would be required to install a GPS device on board that would allow the city to track their movements.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, and Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, plan to introduce the expanded ordinance Wednesday. It will likely be reviewed by the City Council’s committee on licensing and economic development before going to a full council vote in July.

Officials with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection met Monday with about 20 food truck operators to make a presentation about the proposal and get feedback. The mayor’s office characterized the meeting as “a lively exchange of ideas,” but one mobile food vendor characterized it as “heated,” citing what she and other vendors see as problems with the plan.

The city would choose the food truck stands’ locations through an “open and collaborative process in each ward,” Emanuel’s office said in a statement. At least six high-density business districts — Lakeview, Lincoln Park, West Town, the Loop, the Near North Side and the Gold Coast — would have to establish at least five such stands in their area, an Emanuel spokesman said.

Trucks would be able to operate 24 hours a day, though they could not stay in one place for more than two hours.

Current city ordinances allow food trucks to sell only prepackaged food prepared in a licensed kitchen. The proposed ordinance suggests raising the licensing fee for those businesses, called mobile food dispensers, from $225 per year to $700 for two years. A new mobile food truck license allowing operators to cook on board would cost $1,000 for two years, though the mayor’s office said the fee structure might change as it works with stakeholders to hammer out details.

No cap on the number of licenses is proposed, but the proposal gives the business affairs department the authority to cap them or impose a lottery system if the number causes “oversaturation or traffic congestion.”

Amy Le, who operates the Duck N Roll truck and has worked to organize mobile food vendors, attended the business affairs department’s presentation Monday. She said the major sticking points of the plan were the 200-foot restriction, which operators felt was too strict, and the mandatory GPS device, which vendors thought could result in undeserved citations if, for example, they parked the truck for a moment to drop off a catering order.

Moreno, who didn’t attend Monday’s presentation, said, “You want to not infringe on the brick-and-mortars but not interfere with entrepreneurship,” explaining the reasoning behind keeping the trucks away from restaurants and in the mobile zones. He also said the GPS rules would be enforced with discretion, not to the letter of the law.

Other points of contention included questions as to where the truck stands would be located and the not-yet-finalized fine structure for violations. One early copy of the proposed ordinance listed a range of $200 to $2,000.

“A $1,000 fine could wipe out an entire day of sales and shut down a business,” Le said. “How can you charge a $1,000 fine for selling cupcakes in a spot we are not supposed to but charge less for marijuana possession?”

Le said she did welcome a new provision that would allow vendors of prepackaged food the freedom to do some assembly on board, such as putting mustard on a hot dog or squirting salsa on a taco.

Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed.