November 17, 2015

No one should need a competitor’s permission to operate a business. But for more than a decade, San Antonio has forced food trucks to do just that. The city bans food trucks from operating within 300 feet of any restaurant, convenience store or grocery store in the city. As a result, there are thousands of government-created “no-vending zones” spread across the city that make it difficult to open or operate a food truck.

To have any chance at vending in a restricted area, food trucks must get notarized permission slips from every brick-and-mortar competitor within a 300-foot radius. And if that were not enough, San Antonio’s rule also forces existing food trucks to shut down anytime a new restaurant or other food establishment opens within 300 feet of them.

IJ client Rafael Lopez ran afoul of the 300-foot ban, even though he operated his food truck, El Bandera Jalisco, on private property. Earlier this year, government agents showed up and gave him two options: Shut down or face fines of up to $2,000 simply because he was vending within 300 feet of a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant owner did not give Rafael permission to open, so now his food truck is collecting dust in storage. If Rafael opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, his business would be legal. But because Rafael operates a food truck on that property, San Antonio has put him out of business.

The government cannot use its power to decide who may stay in business and who should be shut down. This June, the Texas Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling in IJ’s challenge to the licensing of eyebrow threaders. That decision made clear that economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference—is a vigorously protected right under the Texas Constitution.

Food truck entrepreneurs operate their vending businesses to support themselves and their families, but San Antonio shuts them down for no reason other than to protect restaurants and other businesses from food truck competition. That is why, in October, IJ teamed up with Rafael and three other San Antonio food truck owners to fight back and challenge the constitutionality of San Antonio’s 300-foot ban under the Texas Constitution. As you will read in the adjacent sidebar, IJ also released a new report in conjunction with the lawsuit that shows food trucks, food carts and other street vending operations are more than just a pit stop for a tasty taco—they are vital economic engines that foster vibrant streets, create economic opportunity and support jobs.

Our lawsuit against San Antonio will defend economic liberty and build on the precedent IJ set on behalf of eyebrow threaders. Customers—not the government—should decide where to buy lunch.

Arif Panju is an IJ attorney.

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