Las Vegas City Council Puts a Restraining Order on Food Trucks

The Las Vegas City Council approved a new ordinance that restricts street food. Food trucks are now forbidden from selling within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. That effectively makes most of downtown—and many customers—off-limits to food trucks. Violate any part of this ordinance and entrepreneurs can face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail.
Many mobile vendors were upset by this new ordinance. Colin Fukunaga, who runs the popular Fukuburger, weighed in: “I wish restaurants would realize that 150 or even 10 feet, is not going to convince John Q. Citizen that was going to their restaurant to get sidetracked…In my opinion, it’s a little slap in the face.”

This is the latest skirmish between the city’s 125 food trucks and some restaurant owners. At one point, the Planning Commission even recommended a quarter-mile ban. That’s 1,320 feet!

The council voted 5-1 in favor of the ordinance. Councilman Steve Ross was the lone dissenter, making the case for economic freedom:

“It’s not the job of government to regulate competition. It’s not our job. I would be very hard-pressed to support any sort of distance separation from mobile-vending trucks and restaurants. To me it’s a different customer.”

Ross also argued culinary entrepreneurs “have a constitutional right to go out and earn a living…This stymies the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Indeed, needlessly restricting mobile entrepreneurs is unconstitutional. Bureaucrats don’t have the authority to protect businesses from perceived competitors. That’s the reasoning behind a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Las Vegas) case that challenged a licensing scheme for pest exterminators in California. In Merrifield v. Lockyer, the court ruled “mere economic protectionism for the sake of economic protectionism is irrational” and does not serve a “legitimate governmental interest.”

In January 2011, the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against El Paso, Texas for passing an onerous proximity ban that “made it illegal for mobile food vendors to operate within 1,000-feet of any restaurant, convenience store, or grocer.” Fortunately, El Paso officials remembered the Constitution still exists and later scrapped the vending restrictions.

— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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