Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to create a new and permanent designation for “mobile merchants” that allows non-food items to be sold from trucks parked legally on Chicago streets was stopped dead in its tracks Wednesday.
The City Council’s License Committee postponed a vote on the mayor’s ordinance after aldermen complained that they weren’t fully briefed and that the new category would create a double-standard that treats the heavily-regulated food truck industry unfairly and, potentially, illegally.
That could invite, yet another lawsuit challenging a 2012 ordinance that prohibits food trucks from operating within 200 feet of restaurants and requires them to operate only at designated stands they must leave after two hours.
“The food truck industry is going to go berserk. We’re gonna tell people they can sell shirts, but not hot dogs from trucks. We need to spend more time on this,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th ), owner of Ann Sather Restaurants.
“The 200-foot rule that applies to food trucks should apply here. I don’t know how we defend this.”
Tunney noted that the City Council “spent almost a year negotiating” before passing the food truck ordinance.
By comparison, the mobile vendors designation was a rush job, he said.
Tunney said he only read the ordinance “in the last 48 hours” and was not prepared to vote on it, even though temporary licenses granted by the city to seven vendors are due to expire on June 15.
If need be, those temporary licenses can be extended, he said.
“We can get this done, but we need…to be briefed….I don’t think we’ve been briefed properly. I ask that we hold this in committee. I don’t think we’re ready to vote on this,” Tunney said.
“I know there is seemingly a sense of urgency with the expiration of these innovation grants. But I would like for us to engage more with our small businesses and with our local chambers of commerce so we can do a more effective conversation and hopefully a substitute that works for everybody.”
Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) agreed to co-sponsor the new ordinance creating the new license.
But that was before she realized there would be no aldermanic briefings “like we do on seemingly every other initiative of the administration.”
Nor did Smith know that “changes were being made as of this morning, which I still don’t quite understand.”
“City Council is entitled to know where the trucks can park. Can they park on every street in their ward? I don’t even know the answer to that question and I’m in favor of this concept,” Smith said.
“I don’t [believe in] rushing an ordinance through just because an ordinance that we created only gave people two years for something….Nobody wants a gun to their head at anything that we do here — literally or figuratively.”
Smith suggested temporary licenses to give the City Council time to get it right.
“Nobody here…wants to put a business out of business. We want to encourage these wonderful entrepreneurs who, at least in some cases, now have brick-and-mortar locations as a result of their ability to raise the money to do this in, what I consider to be a step between a truck and permanent locations,” she said.
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno said the seven “emerging business permits” now due to expire were created to “recognize innovative, emerging and non-traditional business activities that do not fit within the current business license categories.”
The mayor’s ordinance “does not create a new license.” It merely creates a “regulated activity under the regulated business license framework,” the commissioner said.
To qualify for the mobile merchants designation, each vehicle would have to be “motorized and properly regulated by the state,” well maintained and “completely enclosed with top and side panels,” the commissioner said.
Only the sale of “goods – not services” would be permitted and only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Merchants could stay in one location for up to two hours, so long as the vehicle is complying with all parking requirements and restrictions, “such as paying parking meters, street cleaning or snow route parking,” the commissioner said.
No signs or merchandise displays would be allowed “on or over the public way.”
“BACP feels that these regulations strike the appropriate balance between public and consumer safety, allowing the mobile boutiques to continue operation on the streets of our city and anticipating future mobile retail activity and operators,” Escareno said.