El Paso Begins Repealing Protectionist Restrictions on Mobile Vendors

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 19, 2011

Austin, Texas—Today, El Paso officials took an important step toward passing a new ordinance that would eliminate protectionist regulations against mobile food vendors. The ordinance comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice on behalf of four El Paso mobile vendors, challenging the law that prohibits mobile vendors from operating within 1,000 feet of any restaurant, grocer or convenience store. The vendors are also challenging a law that requires them to circle the block until finding customers waiting at the curb with cash in hand.

The ordinance passed on first reading today before the El Paso city council. If it passes on second reading next Tuesday, April 26, it will become effective immediately.

“El Paso is hopefully beginning to recognize that mobile vendors are an important element of its business community,” said Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter and lead attorney on the case. “The old ordinance effectively turns El Paso into a ‘no vending’ zone, serving the sole purpose of protecting favored businesses from competition. Today’s changes recognize that vending entrepreneurs are operating legal businesses, following food safety rules, and paying the taxes they’re legally required to pay. El Paso vending entrepreneurs have a right to earn an honest living.”


The federal lawsuit challenges the old ordinance because it violates the vendors’ constitutional right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference. The 1,000-foot separation requirement and the prohibition on waiting for customers curbside do nothing to protect public health or safety—they simply protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition. The Institute’s lawsuit makes clear that such economic protectionism is not a valid use of government power.

“All I want to do is work,” said Maria Robledo, one of the plaintiffs. “I am happy that the city is not going to stop me from running my business.” Robledo has operated her mobile vending business in El Paso for over 13 years.

The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs. For more on this lawsuit and the IJ-Texas Chapter, click here.