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Food Trucks Sue City Claiming 'Unconstitutional' Ordinance

Virginia Alvino
Texas Public Radio News

Several food truck vendors are filing a lawsuit against the City of San Antonio, claiming one ten-year-old ordinance favors brick and mortar restaurants, and is unconstitutional. 

The so-called 300-foot ordinance requires food trucks to get written, notarized permission from nearby brick and mortar restaurants, in order to operate. Otherwise the City could fine them $2,000 a day, or shut them down.

Attorney at the Institute for Justice Arif Panju says this ordinance has already had a big impact on some entrepreneurs.

“They’re forced to shut down under this law if a new restaurant opens within 300 feet away, even though they were there first," says Panju. "They’re forced to shut down even if they’re on private property, even if they’re on their own land, or if they lease property.”

Such was the case for Rafael Lopez. His truck El Bandera Jalisco is parked on his property, in front of his restaurant. But, no signature from the Chinese restaurant next door meant getting shut down earlier this year.

Others have found ways to keep their doors open, that have come at a cost. Ricardo Quintanilla owns and operates Tacos El Rejio Dos on the Northeast side of town.

“In this particular case, my case, I have to pay extortion to a person in order to operate, otherwise he wouldn’t give me permission to operate, and therefore the city would close my business,” says Quintanilla.

Quintanilla says he pays his neighbor $400 per month to keep in good standing, and says he even has a contract with that bar stipulating the agreement. He’s not participating in the lawsuit, but supports the effort.

The suit was officially filed Tuesday. The Institute for Justice says they’ve had luck overturning similar ordinances in other cities.

Update: October 7, 2015

As of October 7, the City of San Antonio says it has not yet been served with the lawsuit. 

Jeff Coyle, Director of Government & Public Affairs offered this comment to Texas Public Radio:

“The City has a long-standing policy of regulating the mobile food industry. The codes enacted by the City reflect a balance of interests between various sectors of the food industry and the public in an effort to maintain cooperation and communication as well as to provide a safe environment for mobile food sales.”

Jon Lindskog is San Antonio Food Truck Association’s vice president. He says his organization was solicited by the Institute for Justice earlier this year, and opted not to participate in the lawsuit. Lindskog says the ordinance has not created a problem for the majority of the more than 40 trucks in the organization.

Virginia joined Texas Public Radio in September, 2015. Prior to hosting and producing Fronteras for TPR, she worked at WBOI in Indiana to report on often overlooked stories in the community. Virginia began her reporting career at the Statehouse in Salem, OR, and has reported for the Northwest News Network and Oregon Public Broadcasting.