New Orleans is not known as a bastion of economic liberty. IJ has sued the city more than once on behalf of would-be entrepreneurs the government blocked from pursuing an honest living. And now we helped convince the Crescent City, outside the courtroom, to reject the idea that it can pick winners and losers in the marketplace. The result is a victory that few could have predicted.
New Orleanians love food trucks. Yet, despite their enormous popularity, food truck entrepreneurs in the Crescent City faced some of the worst laws in the nation. They could not operate within 600 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants, had to move every 45 minutes, and were banned entirely from the Central Business District and French Quarter. These regulations, in addition to others, made operating a successful food truck nearly impossible.
But we at IJ love a challenge. For the past ten months, we worked with the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition and the city council president to reform these crippling laws. We co-hosted a symposium to generate public support, ran advertisements, secured media coverage and issued statements to the city council. When our chief opponent claimed “overwhelming” support, we went through thousands of pages of documents to prove that support for food trucks outweighed opposition by a margin of three-to-one.
Our foes were formidable, but ultimately the council passed a bill we considered a modest success. Although it would have made the environment friendlier for food trucks, it still included a 200-foot proximity ban.
Then we received word that Mayor Landrieu vetoed the bill. At first we thought the forces of protectionism were at play. But much to our delight, the mayor vetoed the legislation over concerns that the proximity ban was unconstitutional.
What caused this sudden fidelity to the Constitution? Because of IJ’s outreach to city council, the mayor learned about our victory in another Louisiana case, on behalf of the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey, and decided to support economic liberty over protectionism. A bill was introduced on the mayor’s behalf removing the proximity restriction altogether while expanding where food trucks may operate. The bill passed unanimously.
This victory is a testament to IJ’s work, both through our National Street Vending Initiative and our litigation in Louisiana, as well as a testament to the dedication of activists on the ground. We will continue to advocate in the courts of law and at the grassroots to push back against assaults on economic liberty.
Christina Walsh is the Institute’s director of activism and coalitions.