Mobile Food Vendors File Federal Suit Against City of El Paso

Jake Wylie eats his tacos from El Paso's "TacoHolic" food truck on the hood of the car during a break from work. (Vanessa Monsisvais / El Paso Times)

By Reporter Gaby Loria | ABC-7

Jake Wylie eats his tacos from El Paso's "TacoHolic" food truck on the hood of the car during a break from work. (Vanessa Monsisvais / El Paso Times)

EL PASO, Texas — Food trucks: they’re the go-to spots for cheap eats on the streets. Mobile food vendors have been popping up all over the city for years, but recently passed regulations have made it more difficult for them to operate around town. Now they’re fighting the rules in federal court.

Four mobile food vendors filed a lawsuit against the city of El Paso Wednesday morning. They gathered outside the courthouse downtown to discuss their concerns over a 2009 ordinance.

The vendors find two subsections in the ordinance troubling. One of them bans mobile vendors from “parking and awaiting” customers. The other part that’s being challenged deals with distance. Vendors are banned from parking within 1,000 feet of any place that sells food like restaurants, grocery stores and even soup kitchens. That’s a little more than the length of 2.5 average football fields.

Attorneys with the Institute for Justice’s Texas Chapter are representing the local vendors. The attorneys reached out to the vendors after hearing about El Paso’s current restrictions. “We looked at the restrictions in the major Texas cities and El Paso is by far the worst,” said Matt Miller, the executive director and attorney for the Institute for Justice.

Attorneys claim those parts of the ordinance are unconstitutional because they place unreasonable restrictions on entrepnuers trying to make an “honest living.

“Vendors like Yvonne Castaneda, one of the plaintiffs, told ABC-7 she feels the regulations are unreasonable. She said she will often get hefty fines from city inspectors for setting up shop in locations she used to have no problem parking in. “I feel like we’re being run out of the city,” she said.

There is one notable exception to the 1,000 feet law. Mobile vendors can make deals with individual businesses to park and sell in their property for a few hours at a time. To do that, though, they must follow a separate, specific set of rules and regulations.

City officials declined to comment on this case or the ordinance.

Members of the El Paso Restaurant Association helped draft the 2009 ordinance update that includes the laws now being challenged by Castaneda and the other plaintiffs. “We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” said member Susie Diaz. “We just don’t want the mobile units to get right on our doorstep and take our business away just like I’m sure they wouldn’t want someone to do that to them.

“If the laws are determined to be unconstitutional, other cities with similar restrictions could be forced to get rid of them.