Food trucks that have become a pivotal part of Chicago’s culinary scene would be allowed to set up shop in staging areas at O’Hare and Midway Airports under a mayoral plan proposed Wednesday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel brokered the 2012 ordinance that legalized mobile food trucks with cooking on board. He now wants to open up the lucrative airport market to food trucks, just as he did for ride-hailing giants Lyft and Uber.
At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Emanuel introduced an ordinance that authorizes Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans to establish areas at O’Hare and Midway where food trucks could remain, without having to move every two hours, as is required on Chicago streets.
The mayor’s office said the intent is to have food trucks serve ride-sharing and taxicab staging areas at the airports.
The ordinance authorizes Evans and Business and Consumer Protection Commissioner Samantha Fields to “jointly designate any other exempt locations” at O’Hare and Midway, provided those sites “will not interfere with traffic or public safety.”
“No such designation shall include an airport terminal,” the ordinance states.
The mayor’s plan comes at a time when the City Council’s food truck champions are still trying to broker a compromise to soften rigid city regulations upheld by a Circuit Court judge.
In December, Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia threw his formidable support behind a plan to allow Chicago food trucks to park and stay longer in one legal space — perhaps up to six hours.
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) had proposed the six-hour window that Chicago food trucks would be permitted to set up shop in one location; that’s triple the current limit of two hours.
Moreno argued then that a legislative solution was the only alternative after food truck owners lost their court fight to overturn the city’s restrictive food truck ordinance.
The alderman said he was somewhat flexible on the six hours, but food truck owners who take “40 minutes to set up and 40 minutes to tear down” needed longer than two hours to stay in one place if they are to survive and thrive in Chicago.
“The hours should be raised. Two hours is definitely too short of a time, too quick of a turnover time. Restauranteurs understand that you’ve got to set up and break down any time you’re opening and closing a restaurant or food truck,” said Toia, former owner of Leona’s Restaurants.
“Chicago is the culinary capital of the United States and food trucks are part of our great culinary scene here. We have to figure out how we can work to help them stay longer in the designated zones.”
Toia said then that the only question was how long the new limit should be. “I want to make sure that all the food trucks feel that it should be six hours. Should it be four? Should it be six? I’m not sure yet. I want to communicate with everybody and make sure that everyone in the food truck community feels comfortable with the [new] hours being proposed. We’ll definitely get to the table and work something out with everybody,” he said.
The Circuit Court suit decided in the city’s favor also took aim at the requirement that food trucks stay 200 feet away from stationary restaurants and have GPS devices on board so City Hall can track their movements.
When it comes to brokering a legislative solution, Toia was adamant about retaining the 200-foot bubble that protects brick-and-mortar restaurants.
But he was open to the possibility of designating additional food truck stands across the city in conjunction with aldermen and chambers of commerce.
The two-hour rule was put into place in 2012 as part of the landmark ordinance that finally allowed for cooking aboard food trucks in Chicago.
But for the past four years, the two-hour rule was widely flouted with impunity, a joint investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago I-Team found last summer.
Virtually every weekday, trucks stayed for six hours or longer in the same spots, but the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection rarely cited anybody for violating the ordinance.
Many food trucks owners said they had no choice but to break the rule or else they would go out of business.
Emanuel ordered increased enforcement after the reports from the Sun-Times and ABC7, and dozens of violations were handed out to food trucks earlier this year. Some truck operators said they began keeping close watch on how long they remained in the same spot, to avoid hefty fines.