El Paso Vending
Castaneda v. City of El Paso
El Paso Mobile Food Vendors Challenge City’s Effort to Run Them Out of Town
IJ Client Yvonne Castenada
|IJ Client Maria Robledo|
|Download: Map of Vending Prohibitions (PDF)|
Should the city of El Paso, Texas, be allowed to turn itself into a No-Vending Zone in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition?
The Institute for Justice sought an answer to this question in a major federal lawsuit filed January 26, 2011 on behalf of four El Paso mobile food vendors.
This lawsuit launched a National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide litigation and activism effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living. The case against the city of El Paso challenged the constitutionality of the city’s mobile vending restrictions that made it illegal for vendors to operate within 1,000 feet of a restaurant or convenience store, and prohibited them from stopping to await customers anywhere in the city.
In response to the lawsuit, El Paso officials passed a new ordinance eliminating the protectionist regulations against mobile food vendors that formed the basis of the claims raised. This is a major victory for El Paso mobile food vendors and for economic liberty. The new ordinance comes only three months after the case was filed.
The federal lawsuit challenged the old ordinance because it violated the vendors’ constitutional right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable and arbitrary government interference. The 1,000-foot separation requirement and the prohibition on waiting for customers curbside did nothing to protect public health or safety—both provisions simply protected brick-and-mortar businesses from competition.
While people across the country embrace mobile vendors for the vitality and creativity they bring to a local restaurant scene, cities like El Paso have decided to threaten vendors with thousands of dollars in fines and effectively run them out of town. But economic protectionism is not a valid use of government power. IJ’s victory in El Paso highlights that it is both wrong and unconstitutional for local governments to place burdensome restrictions on street vendors in order to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition.