Food Trucks

More Food Trucks May Be Coming to Your Baltimore Neighborhood

A judge suspends oppressive city regulations as too vague, but the fight's probably not over.

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Food trucks
Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice ends 2017 with one more win as a Baltimore circuit judge ruled the city's tough laws restricting food trucks are too vague to be enforced.

Baltimore is a city where leaders have placed strict controls on where food trucks can park for the explicit purpose of protecting restaurants (and farmer's markets, in this case) from competitors. Baltimore's law forbids food trucks from parking within 300 feet of a restaurant that is selling similar foods.

The Institute, representing two food trucks (Pizza di Joey and Madame BBQ), sued to block the ban, arguing that it violates Maryland's constitution and the rights of the truck operators. The city does not have a legitimate interest to justify these restrictions on where mobile food vendors can operate, and that the law itself has been written too vaguely, its lawyers argued.

Its vagueness won the case for the Institute. It's not just a civil code violation when a food truck parks too close to a competing restaurant; it's a misdemeanor criminal violation with a fine involved. But the law doesn't define how to determine whether a food truck is selling similar food as a nearby restaurant or how the 300 feet should be measured. Judge Karen Friedman ruled food truck operators do not have enough information to be able to determine whether they're violating the law or not. She is enjoining the city from enforcing the law until it has been clarified.

Don't celebrate this win for freedom just yet. The judge accepted the city's claim that it had a legitimate interest in protecting restaurants from food truck competition. The city argued it had a stake in protecting its property tax revenue and the stability of commercial districts by keeping food trucks at a distance. The judge actually determined the city has a legitimate interest in protecting brick-and-mortar restaurants from this sort of mobile competition.

The work of the Institute for Justice is, unfortunately, probably not done in Baltimore, as the lawyers noted when announced their win:

"Today's ruling means Charm City is one step closer to food truck freedom," added IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer. "But until the Maryland courts declare once and for all that cities cannot make it a crime to compete, we will keep fighting."

Read the ruling here. John Stossel just covered Pizza di Joey's case in Baltimore earlier in December. Watch below:

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  1. Food fight!!

  2. Good food only comes from brick and mortar establishments.

    1. Food trucks actually entice people to nearby restaurants. If parked in front of an upscale restaurant.The hot dog eater may return with his wife for the Scampi that night.

  3. Surprisingly, this is still not enough to get me to move to Baltimore.

    1. What if Baltimore were to ban waxing salons?

      1. I want a woman to fit my style by CHOICE. I’m a libertarian damnit.

      2. Who wants to wax a salon?

    2. That, and it’s in the low 20s here right now.

  4. The city argued it had a stake in *protecting its property tax revenue* and the stability of commercial districts by keeping food trucks at a distance. The judge actually determined the city has a legitimate interest in protecting brick-and-mortar restaurants from this sort of mobile competition.

    So I’m confused.

    The restaurants don’t have a right to a specific economic outcome. The customers don’t. The food trucks don’t.

    But the city does?

    1. *protecting its property tax revenue*

      Seems like these regulations are effectively a new form of eminent domain, as that’s one of the arguments used to protect it.

      1. All taxes are eminent domain.

    2. Yes, since the city’s property is being used rent-free by the food trucks.

      1. The city’s property is being used rent-free by everyone driving down the street, too.

      2. Uhm, what’s this about the trucks not paying taxes?

        Because I am assured that taxes are just like rent paid to a landlord.

        1. And I’m sure they’re taxed via licensing anyway.

          1. Licensing and the normal panoply of sales taxes that any business is required to collect.

      3. If anyone had any doubt who it is.

      4. Hah, of course you couldn’t resist.

        1. Do you and SIV know something about Deflator Mouse I don’t?

      5. The best cities only require the trucks to pay parking fees,but almost all have some sort of licensing payment. The worst have fees so high,the trucks can’t make any money.

  5. Christ, what an asshole. At least he was honest about this being about the city protecting its property taxes income stream. You better pay your protection money, or the city of Baltimore will send its boys in blue to give you a van ride.

  6. Tough to be a food truck in Baltimore, especially with the armor plating you have to buy to keep bullets out of the food.

  7. Buy or Rent property. Squatters have no rights! Right of ways are for transportation purposes not setting up shop.

    1. Is “parking” a transportation purpose?

    2. So, how is that relevant?

      These people are parked in parking spots – not in the middle of the travel lanes.

  8. But I’m still sympathetic to the fact that a business pays property tax to maintain the street out front, then another business not paying property tax can roll right onto it & compete w the property taxpayer.

    1. Sell better food than the truck does. Problem solved.

    2. Nothing is stopping the restaurant owner from selling his business and buying a truck if he thinks he can compete better that way, is it?

    3. Businesses don’t pay property taxes to maintain the street out front. They pay property taxes to allow the city to do whatever it wants with the money.

      If you’re in a rich area – yeah, you’ll get your street maintained. If you’re not – you won’t.

      In any case, the solution to this is to

      a) charge for parking.

      b) charge for parking

      or

      c) charge for parking.

      1. In any case, its been my experience that these trucks don’t actually park *in front of* other restaurants.

        They park down the street where there’s room to park and for people to congregate around the truck or even renting space in some other (usually non-food) business’ parking lot. They do this a lot in my own town. At night there are several trucks that rent a parking lot from a closed non-food business to run their truck/cart – and right across the street is local Mexican place. They all seem to be able to co-exist.

        Its not like, in the majority of cases – I’m sure there are exceptions – they are literally parking in front of Chipotle or whatever.

        1. And, finally, a B&M business is just a business. There’s no reason whatsoever to protect that business model any more than we should protect Borders or ‘mom-and-pop stores’ or traditional taxis.

          Let these people compete. If its a more efficient use of resources to raze all the mid and low-level sit-down restaurants, turn them into big parking lots for a mobile food court – then why should that be prevented?

          If its not more efficient – then its not going to happen anyway.

  9. Good-maybe there will be more options than lake trout, fried chicken, and crabs.

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