LONG BEACH, Calif.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Long Beach, demanding that they cease their efforts to create a new food truck ordinance designed to protect restaurants from competition from food trucks. The plan to create these new restrictions, which would limit vendors to a designated “food truck zone” located away from the restaurants, was passed following complaints from restaurant owners about competition from food trucks.
“The government has no business picking which businesses get to succeed and which ones don’t, but that’s exactly what Long Beach’s City Council is trying to do,” said IJ Senior Attorney Justin Pearson, the author of the letter. “City officials’ plan to crush a vibrant food truck scene would hurt both small business owners and customers.”
The push to regulate food trucks more rigorously started in 2020 when the city council voted to study whether or not it should implement new rules, following several complaints from restaurants. In August of this year, the city revealed the results of its study and decided to create a new ordinance to stop food trucks from competing with brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Despite claims that the restaurants were struggling to compete with food trucks, customers told local media that the restaurants still had massive lines and long wait times. Furthermore, a 2022 report called “Food Truck Truth” shows that these claims by restaurant owners are unfounded. The report, which studied 12 years of census data, found that food trucks and restaurants actually complement one another and grow together. Even in areas of the country where food trucks grew rapidly, restaurant growth still outpaced food truck growth.
“The argument that food trucks somehow hurt restaurants has been disproven time and time again,” said Pearson. “Cities often spend substantial amounts of money trying to attract visitors, but food trucks will accomplish that for free if city governments simply get out of the way.”
Additionally, courts have repeatedly explained that preventing competition between favored and disfavored businesses is not a legitimate constitutional basis for a law. “Even if food trucks were to take away some business from restaurants, that would be part of competing in a market,” Pearson explained. “It is not government’s job to interfere with consumer choice.”
Long Beach is not alone in its misguided attack on food trucks. Last month, IJ sent a letter to officials in Denver, calling on them to repeal the city’s ban on food trucks operating in the Lower Downtown area. That led to a public outcry, after which city officials partially repealed the ban and the official who created the ban suddenly announced his retirement.
Through its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ has stood up for the rights of food truck operators against harmful laws that prevent them from earning an honest living. IJ has won lawsuits against similar food truck regulations across the country, including a law in San Antonio that prevented food trucks from operating within 300 feet of an established restaurant and one in Louisville that barred food trucks within 150 feet of restaurants.