December 12, 2012 9:43AM

Food Trucks Unwelcome in Arlington, Virginia

Libertarian arguments about the importance of economic liberty so often fall on deaf ears, but then you come across government abuses in this area that are so ridiculous that maybe even progressives can see the folly. Here’s an excerpt from an email I just got from the Institute for Justice:

For those of you who follow IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative, you most likely know that cities across the country pass arbitrary and anti‐​competitive laws that make it practically impossible for food trucks and other vendors to succeed. An opportunity to fight against one such law has presented itself in Arlington, Virginia.

Arlington County has a law in place that prevents food trucks from operating in one place for more than 60 minutes. A local food truck named Seoul Food received a notice for violating this rule. According to the owner of the truck, he informed the police officer that he did move from one parking spot to another within the allotted time. The police officer still cited Seoul Food, however, because in the officer’s view the truck had not moved “far enough.” It is important to note that the County Code does not specify any minimum distance a truck must move; it states only that “the vehicle must remain stopped for … no longer than sixty (60) minutes.” Arlington Code Section 30–9(B).

The penalty for violating Section 30–9 is severe. The Arlington County Code classifies a violation of the sixty‐​minute rule as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500.” Thus, Arlington considers selling food to willing customers from a legal parking space to be as serious as Reckless Driving, DUI, and Assault & Battery.

You can’t make this stuff up!

I followed up with one of IJ’s lawyers, who also noted that every police officer who Seoul Food’s owners interacted with has given them a different distance that the food truck purportedly has to move. One said they just needed to move to an adjacent spot, while another said they had to go around the block. 

Alas, because the case is in criminal proceedings (!), IJ can’t represent Seoul Food. Any Virginia‐​licensed lawyers with experience in criminal defense work who might want to help out pro bono — or media/​others seeking more information on the case — please contact Krissy Keys, kkeys -at‐ ij​.org.