Fight Over Chicago’s Food Truck Ordinance Heads To State’s High Court | WBEZ
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Fight Over Chicago’s Food Truck Ordinance Heads To State’s High Court

A longstanding battle over Chicago’s food truck ordinance has made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The city requires food trucks to use a GPS tracking device and prohibits them from parking within 200 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Mobile cupcake vendor Laura Pekarik sued the city of Chicago in 2012, arguing the ordinance governing food trucks is unconstitutional, and that it has been detrimental to her business.

On Wednesday, her lawyers will make that argument in front of the state’s high court.

Pekarik says she’s been forced to operate in the suburbs because, by her calculations, the ordinance renders most of the Loop off-limits to mobile food vendors.

“The 200-foot rule is unjust,” Pekarik said. “It’s just to protect the restaurant industry.”   

The city defends the ordinance, saying it has a right to balance the interests of businesses that operate within Chicago. Lower courts have agreed. A Cook County circuit court sided with the city in 2016, and appeals court confirmed that decision a year later.

In 2017, a panel of appellate court judges said the city has a right to protect brick-and-mortar businesses, including restaurants, that pay property taxes.

Pekarik’s attorney Robert Frommer is expected to argue Wednesday that ruling is contrary to the state’s constitution, and points out food truck owners have expenses of their own, such as business license fees.

“Every business has competitors and every business pays some degree of taxes,” Frommer said. “It’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and it’s not the government’s job to decide where people get their lunch.”

Frommer argues the city’s GPS tracking device requirement falls under the definition of an unreasonable search under the state constitution.

Lower courts have disagreed, saying the tracking device doesn’t constitute a search at all.

It could be months before the state Supreme Court issues a ruling.

The ruling could affect 120 food truck operators licensed in the city of Chicago.

Mariah Woelfel is a morning news producer for WBEZ. Follow her for updates @MariahWoelfel.

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