Tupelo food truck regulations don’t include controversial restrictions

Brett KittredgeAvatar

After a great deal of debate and discussion over the past year, the new food truck regulations in Tupelo do not include the controversial, and potentially illegal, restrictions that some on the council had floated.

According to the Daily Journal, the final draft looks similar to the draft that was released last month. It did not include a blanket restriction on streets that food trucks could be located, nor did it have a provision requiring food trucks to be a certain distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Protection for brick-and-mortar restaurants is what originally propelled this discussion.

Earlier this year, Councilman Willie Jennings said, in proposing the regulations, “I just want to make sure the established businesses are protected.” Another councilman, Markel Whittington, said brick-and-mortar restaurants have requested food truck regulations. While he didn’t feel food trucks posed a ‘threat’ to those restaurants, he believed it was appropriate for government to act ‘on behalf of select business interests.’

“I think we have to protect some of our taxpayers and high employers,” he said.

And after the first draft of the ordinance was released, Councilman Mike Bryan began to lobby for those brick-and-mortar restaurant protections, such as a ban on major roads. He continued that push until the end still calling for a Main Street parking ban.

“I feel like it is not fair to brick-and-mortar businesses to allow food trucks to park in front of their business,” Bryan said earlier.

But in the end, the controversial provisions were not included. And while there has been some support on the council, Mayor Jason Shelton has long opposed the protectionist measures.

When Tupelo leaders began discussing food truck regulations, Mississippi Justice Institute, the legal arm of Mississippi Center for Public Policy, sent a letter to the city warning of litigation if these regulations passed.

“The very regulation Tupelo is discussing—a regulation about how close a food truck should be to a restaurant—was found to be unenforceable just this past December in Baltimore. Food truck regulations around the country have been challenged over and over in court, from Louisville, to San Antonio, to Chicago, and many places in between. Cities ultimately realize that these kinds of cases are very hard to defend,” the letter said.

Having the food truck option is good for consumers and it is good for the economic interests of a city, whether that is Tupelo or any other city in Mississippi. A glance of the growing cities throughout America shows a thriving food truck market. Food trucks or brick-and-mortar restaurants is not an “either-or” proposition. They can both survive next to each other, and competition will only make each better.

And more choice for consumers is always a good thing. Because it will be the consumers who decide if food trucks are a benefit for Tupelo, not government regulators.