Pensacola, FL: Pensacola food truck law could face challenge

(Photo: James Meier/The Desert Sun)

By Mark Ambranson  |  Pensacola News Journal

(Photo: James Meier/The Desert Sun)
(Photo: James Meier/The Desert Sun)

A legal organization that challenges food truck restrictions and works with the vehicles’ operators nationwide is warning that a proposed Pensacola ordinance to regulate the roving eateries would be illegal.

Pensacola is considering a law proposed by Council Member Charles Bare that would require food trucks to get a permit to operate downtown for city sponsored or cosponsored events, among other circumstances.

Last month Pensacola’s Planning Board recommended that the law should also restrict the trucks from operating within 200 feet from any restaurant in the city.

A law that regulates the trucks’ operations, except to protect the public’s health and safety, would be illegal, including banning them from operating within a set distance from restaurants, said Robert Frommer, an attorney with the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice (IJ). It’s legitimate for a city to ban the trucks from operating on narrow streets if that is a safety concern.

“The government can’t keep you from making an honest living just to protect your competitors,” Frommer said. “The government shouldn’t be in the business of protecting restaurants from food trucks.”

The IJ, which takes up various legal causes, has successfully challenged a food truck ordinance in El Paso, Texas, in 2011 that banned the trucks from operating within 1,000 feet of restaurants. El Paso also required the trucks be in constant motion when not making a sale.

The institute also filed a lawsuit in the Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court against Chicago in late 2012 because that city restricts food trucks within 200 feet of any restaurant or place that sells food, including convenience stores. The legal organization also worked with New Orleans without taking legal action to repeal that city’s ban on the trucks operating within 600 feet of restaurants and set up areas for them to operate in 2013.

“We are currently litigating that (Chicago) case and expect a decision by the end of the year,” said Robert Frommer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice.

El Paso agreed to repeal its restrictions shortly after the IJ filed a federal lawsuit against that city, Frommer added.

Frommer said the IJ monitored Pensacola’s unsuccessful attempts to draft a food truck law for downtown last year, and it would be willing to assist food truck operators in the City of Five Flags attempted to put restrictions on them.

George Makris, the owner of the Hip Pocket Deli food truck, said he thinks it would help if the IJ got involved in Pensacola. Makris also said that the city’s efforts to create an ordinance has deterred people from getting into the business.

“I know (three or four) people who want to build food trucks, but because of the mess that is going on, they are scared,” Makris said. “I”m trying to play ball with everybody and I’m just trying to find my little place to thrive.”