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SPI Discussing Food Truck Permits Amid Lawsuit

2 months 22 hours 55 minutes ago Monday, December 16 2019 Dec 16, 2019 December 16, 2019 6:10 PM December 16, 2019 in News - Local

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – A city's legal limits to regulate food trucks is at the center of a lawsuit filed against South Padre Island. The lawsuit also prompted an emergency council meeting Monday.

City leaders met to discuss food trucks ordinances including changing, amending or rescinding them.

South Padre Island attracts surfers, swimmers, anglers and all kinds of people on the move.

Mobile restaurants, or food trucks, are catching on with the demographic. It's inspired many like Erika Lerma to venture into business. For her, a food truck is a way to keep her nonprofit, SurfVive, going.

Lerma says, "We’ve done three full summers so far of offering free surfing lessons for the community once a week on Sundays at Isla Blanca Park. And, we wanted to start the food truck to help fund that organization and also the community garden that we had planned for the area."

Lerma acquired a permit from the county but was told by the city she needed one from them, too. She was informed, at the time, the city had reached its capacity on how many food trucks can have a permit, and that she would need to wait. She was also advised of the ordinance requirements for having a food truck in South Padre Island.

She recalled, "We were told we didn’t have permission from a restaurant owner, and that was the main issue. We have contracts to dispose our waste. We have a self-contained food truck that meets strict health and safety requirements. We just didn’t know why we had to ask a restaurant owner for permission.”

Lerma filed a lawsuit through her attorney, Arif Panju. He works as the Texas Managing Attorney for the Institute for Justice. They have defended multiple street vendors across the country.

Panju says, “All of them deal with this issue of whether or not you can use government power to pick winners and losers engaged in protectionism.”

They are legally challenging the cap of 12 food truck permits established by the ordinance, and the portion that reads, “Applicant must be supported locally and have the signature of an owner or designee of a licensed, free-standing food unit on South Padre Island before being eligible for a permit. Limit one local owner's (or designee's) signature per applicant.”

The plaintiffs contend this means brick and mortar restaurants have to sign off on whether a food truck can get a permit.

In Monday's council meeting, leaders planned to talk about changing or doing away with this ordinance. Multiple food truck owners showed up concerned including Jerry Leal, owner of Pineapple Ninja.

“To hear something like this going on is unsettling, because we don’t believe the island to be a place that pushes away business. We believe it embraces it,” said Leal.

After the city spent 36 minutes in executive session during the meeting, they emerged to discuss whether they would be changing or rescinding the food truck ordinance.

Ricardo Navarro, South Padre Island city attorney, says, “I think the issue given the way the lawsuit is written is going to be competing visions about where the regulatory lines are going to be drawn.”

Ultimately, Navarro advised the council to table the item until they can look further into the legislative issues at work. The council complied.

The lawsuit is requesting a state district judge stop the ordinance from being enforced as is. Until then, the current ordinances will remain in place.

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