Possible movement on food truck ordinance makes some truckers nervous

April 16, 2012

Monica Eng, Chicago Tribune

The election of Mayor Rahm Emanuel had food truck enthusiasts licking their lips.

His campaign positions on mobile food seemed to guarantee speedy passage of a new ordinance that could foster a robust Chicago food truck scene.

But 10 months after Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) re-introduced his ordinance to the new City Council, it remains moldering in committee, seemingly unfit to serve up for a council vote.

Last week, however, the smell of change went wafting through the food truck community. But, for some, it stank of politics. Word on the street was that Emanuel had asked restaurateur and Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) to work on a new draft of the ordinance that the mayor would personally introduce during this week’s council meeting, thereby avoiding a public hearing before a vote.

While some folks report being told by Tunney’s office that the Alderman was, in fact, not working on any such draft, his office told the Tribune only that Tunney “is not working on a draft that will be presented on Wednesday.”

Monday morning Mayor Emanuel’s office confirmed that it was working with Tunney on drafting a new version of the ordinance but that it could not share any more details or even a time frame for introduction.

Tunney’s office has not gotten back to the Tribune with requested details on the new draft but there are at least two schools of thinking about his involvement.

As Chairman of the Economic Development Committee—where the ordinance has gone stale—Tunney may have unique insights on exactly what needs to change before it’s ready for a vote.

But some food truck advocates are concerned that a restaurateur and sometimes vocal opponent of food trucks has been asked to play such a key role. Tunney has noted in the past that he was, in fact, one of the co-sponsors of the Waguespack version of the ordinance. Still, he later expressed reservations over how it might affect established food businesses.

He told the Chicago Sun Times last June, “One of the major issues is spacing from brick-and-mortar restaurants. We’ve got work to do. We need to hear from all sides. We need to make sure we protect … restaurants and foster a trend that, I think, is gonna be here for a while.”

Amy Le who owns and operates DuckNRoll and has been working on forming a food truck association, says that food truck owners simply want “a fair shake. We want an opportunity to see what it looks like before it goes to a vote.”

Some of the main bones of contention are expected to be the required distance from a restaurant or retail food establishment. The current rule of 200 feet is making it hard to avoid tickets, food truck owners say.

Other points include questions of whether or not trucks should be required to install a tracking device on board and how much cooking and/or preparation operators can do. Some operators say they’ve made peace with no cooking but feel they should at least be able to squirt salsa or assemble a sandwich to a customer’s specification. Both of these are restricted under current guidelines.