San Antonio, Texas Food Truck Owners Beat City Regulators

Published January 6, 2016

After food-truck entrepreneurs challenged an ordinance regulating how close to brick-and-mortar restaurants their vehicles may be located, San Antonio, Texas lawmakers repealed the ordinance.

In October 2015, a group of local food truck operators challenged the ordinance, represented by lawyers from the Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit public-interest law firm.

Banning Market Competition

Arif Panju, the IJ attorney representing the food truck owners, says the ordinance did nothing but enable traditional restaurant owners to avoid having to provide better services for consumers.

“The City of San Antonio had a law which did nothing but protect restaurants from competition, forcing food trucks to stay a football field away from every brick-and-mortar business that sells food in the city,” Panju said. “That includes over 5,000 restaurants. That created thousands of ‘no vending’ zones all over town. As the city attorney recognized during a city council meeting, the law was indefensible.”

Panju says the ordinance was an example of government regulators, instead of consumers, picking winners and losers.

“There was a panoply of laws that regulated food trucks, some dealing with health and safety,” said Panju. “But this particular rule was doing nothing but protecting one competitor against another. It’s unconstitutional. The government cannot use its power to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.”

Rethinking Regulations

Kathleen Hunker, a senior policy analyst with the Texas Policy Foundation’s Center for Economic Freedom, says cultural changes are inspiring people to rethink the role of regulation in their everyday lives.

“There is a shift among the population,” Hunker said. “There is a recognition that these new types of businesses that sort of break the old business model … it’s healthy, it’s vibrant, and it brings a lot of diversity and color to a region that’s already been known for its diversity and color. It’s a very vibrant way to participate in the market.”

Hunker says there will be additional people demanding the kind of food that’s provided by mobile food vendors in future years because there are more consumers moving to cities such as San Antonio.

“There’s been a real flourishing of small businesses, particularly in the food-truck industry,” Hunker said. “The number of people who have applied for a vendor license or a sales tax license in San Antonio because they have a food truck has increased exponentially over the past few years … I think in part because you have so many new people coming into the area.”

Kimberly Morin ([email protected]) writes from Brentwood, New Hampshire.