Raleigh’s Food Truck Battle: Planners Violate Their Own Code of Ethics

By Dr. Michael Sanera | John Locke Foundation

The food truck controversy in Raleigh raises serious ethical questions for Raleigh’s city planners, including Raleigh’s chief planner, Mitch Silver. For anyone who followed the long controversy, the decision to prevent food trucks from operating within 100 feet of an existing restaurant, along with numerous other restrictions, was specifically designed as economic protectionism for existing restaurants. In other words, the police powers of the city were used to protect existing restaurants from economic competition from food trucks.

Silver currently serves as the president of the American Planning Association (APA), the nation’s preeminent planning organization. As such, he should be aware of the APA’s “Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.” Section A, “Principles to Which We Aspire,” begins with: “Our primary obligation is to serve the public interest…”

This section goes on to state:


a) We shall always be conscious of the rights of others.

b) We shall have special concern for the long-range consequences of present actions.

c) We shall pay special attention to the interrelatedness of decisions.

d) … Participation should be broad enough to include those who lack formal organization or influence.

e) … [E]xpand choice and opportunity for all persons, recognizing a special responsibility to plan for the needs of the disadvantaged and to promote racial and economic integration. We shall urge the alteration of policies, institutions, and decisions that oppose such needs.

How does a narrow, special-interest zoning ordinance designed to protect existing restaurants from economic competition serve the public interest? Did the planning department under Silver’s leadership at any time inform the council members that:

  1. The ordinance severely restricts the rights of individuals to buy and sell legal products. In addition, the ordinance makes it illegal for a property owner to exercise his property rights by allowing a food truck on his property if the truck is within 100 feet of a restaurant or adding a fourth truck on his property.
  2. The “long-range consequences” are to make Raleigh economically poorer because entrepreneurs cannot freely enter the market. (See this article about food truck entrepreneurs in Durham who innovate and create jobs.)
  3. The thousands of individuals who want to buy food from food trucks “lack formal organization and influence” and were not represented in the decision process because planners failed to speak for them.
  4. The new ordinance does not “expand choice and opportunity for all persons”; it restricts opportunities, especially for the “disadvantaged” in Raleigh. The ordinance also does not promote “racial and economic integration”; it tolerates continued de facto economic segregation in Raleigh.


Raleigh’s planners failed to provide this information to the city council members before they voted on the ordinance. Thus, they are in violation of their own code of ethics. I wonder how the APA under Mitch Silver’s tenure as president would respond to a formal ethics complaint?

What is abundantly clear is that this ordinance is not in the “public interest,” because it was designed specifically to protect existing restaurants from economic competition from food trucks.

For complete coverage of the food truck controversy in Raleigh, see these recent Carolina Journal articles: Sept. 15 (2010), April 21 (2011), July 18, Aug. 4, Sept. 7, and Sept. 19.