Chicago Aldermen Giveth, Taketh Away Food-cart Freedom

A month after Chicago overturned its ban on food carts, city aldermen are poised to restrict them once again.

Less than a day after Chicago lifted its ban on food carts on Sept. 24, city aldermen with a history of limiting the city's food options started making moves to restrict vendors' ability to operate in lucrative locations.

The city's license committee approved restrictions in the area surrounding Wrigley Field and other parts of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood on Oct. 27 at the behest of Alderman Tom Tunney, a former restaurant owner. Alderman Brendan Reilly also proposed limitations in more than 30 areas downtown and in the River North neighborhood -- the license committee moved these forward as well.

City Council will vote on the proposed food-cart bans on Oct. 28, the same day aldermen are scheduled to vote on a highly contentious property-tax hike worth $588 million, making it the largest tax hike in modern Chicago history.

Food carts should be a boon to Chicago neighborhoods, with the potential to bring up to 6,400 new jobs and create more than $8 million in new local sales-tax revenue. Unfortunately, the hardworking food-cart vendors who fought so long for the city to recognize their industry now operate at the mercy of all-powerful local aldermen, many of whom use their authority to grant political favors and keep out businesses they don't like.

Chicago's more than 1,500 food-cart vendors are primarily Latino and serve low-income neighborhoods where food options are often scarce. They are a beloved part of their communities - kids pick up elotés for after-school snacks, walkers grab champurrado on cool mornings and anyone looking for a delicious lunch knows vendors' tamales won't disappoint.

Now that Chicago has lifted its ban on food carts, there should be no restrictions on where vendors can operate. City Council's Sept. 24 vote to legalize the industry was a huge victory for the small-time entrepreneur -- it would be a mistake to walk it back.