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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Chicago food trucks get burned by judge’s ruling

Written by
Jonathan Samples

A Cook County judge on Monday ruled that two rules put in place by the city of Chicago to regulate food trucks are constitutional. But owners and supporters of the mobile eateries say they will continue their four-year fight to challenge Chicago’s restrictive food truck ordinance. At the root of the legal battle are regulations passed in 2012 that prohibit food trucks from setting up shop within 200 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurant and require the installation of global positioning systems that allow the city to monitor mobile food vendors’ locations.

Those rules were initially challenged by two Chicago food truck companies. Cupcakes for Courage and Schnitzel King, which has since gone out of business, filed a lawsuit claiming that the rules stifle competition with brick-and-mortar businesses and restrict the overall growth of the mobile food vendor industry. However, restaurant owners have argued that the rules put in place by the city helped to balance competition.

Judge Anna Helen Demacopoulos sided with the city (and restaurants), concluding that both components of Chicago’s food truck ordinance were legal and within the city’s right to enforce. According to the Chicago Tribune, Demacopoulos ruled that the city is allowed to “balance competition within its borders.”

But Cupcakes for Courage owner Laura Pekarik, along with attorneys from the Institute of Justice, said they planned to appeal the decision. “We are looking at the opinion, and we are planning on appealing,” said attorney Robert Frommer of the Institute for Justice. “It’s not the city’s job to pick winners and losers like this.” Frommer added that the ruling didn’t address the real issues of the case, specifically that government is not allowed to give certain industries (i.e. restaurants) an unfair advantage or require that food trucks install GPS devices. “We expect an Illinois appellate court or the Illinois Supreme Court to make that clear,” he said.

Since 2012, the number of food trucks in Chicago has dropped from 127 to somewhere between 60 and 70 trucks currently, and Frommer said he blames regulations such as the 200-feet rule for the decline. According to an analysis by the Institute of Justice, that rule makes 97 percent of curb space in the North Loop inaccessible to food trucks. “Chicago is the only city of the top 10 metropolitan cities in the country to have these types of rules,” Frommer added.

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