If you travel from California or New York to Chicago, especially the beautiful but food-deserted campus of the University of Chicago, you will notice a striking absence: food trucks, which serve a bewlidering variety of tasty treats in other cities.
Finally, last summer, our City council passed an ordinance allowing food trucks to cook food, along with a bewildering variety of restaurant-protecting restrictions, such as that they may not operate within 200 feet of a restaurant, they can't park for more than two hours, they must carry an on board GPS to verify position, and so on.
Today, the Chicago Tribune reports on the success of this program:
Of the 109 entrepreneurs who have applied for the Mobile Food Preparer licenses that allow onboard cooking, none has met the city's requirements...
The process of getting a license is just too daunting, according to Rodriguez and Fuentes, who cite bad experiences with city bureaucracy, steep additional costs and the need to retrofit equipment among the reasons.
"I think many food truck owners are hesitant to even pursue cooking onboard because of their haunting experience with working with the city," Rodriguez wrote in an email.
(Kudos to Rodriguez for having the courage to write on the record, and good luck with her next application.)
....Chicago's code includes rules on ventilation and gas line equipment that "are meetable but extremely cumbersome and can raise the price of outfitting a truck by $10,000 to $20,000."...
...the additional ventilation equipment (with intake and exhaust fans similar to those in brick-and-mortar kitchens) also raises the height of trucks to 13 feet, making certain Chicago underpasses impassable.
Aaron Crumbaugh, who operates the Wagyu Wagon ... said he is outfitting several trucks for franchisees in other cities whose processes for licensing are clear-cut. "But here they don't know exactly what they want," he said. "Every time a truck comes in (health officials) say 'You need this' but then when you come back they say 'No you need that' and then the next time they find something else."
The Tribune did a much more balanced job of including quotes from city employees defending themselves. I'm a blog so I don't have to be balanced. The numbers speak for themselves. Zero.Yeah. Cochrane also shares a story from the Hyde Park Herald that discusses the ridiculous red tape that is currently preventing a South Side movie theater from opening on time. As Cochrane concludes, "Chicago, like the US, is broke. It says it wants more businesses. Until actual businesses try to open. Really, if we can't get food trucks and movie theater regulations to work, how do Dodd Frank and the EPA have a hope?"
Well said, John. The fact of the matter is that most politicians don't have a clue about what it actually takes to promote economic growth, even while they recognize that it's the absolute only way out of our current budgetary morass, given those same politicians' utter unwillingness to do anything meaningful to address it.
As I've written here before, if we really want sustainable economic growth, then we need to be incentivizing innovation and entrepreneurship, not stifling it with overly onerous regulations that turn a simple task like starting a food truck business into a Sisyphean struggle. But, of course, we seem to be consistently doing the opposite, just about everywhere we look.
We pass regulations on top of regulations from coast to coast, and we issue overly broad patents that protect the large companies at the expense of the small and innovative start-ups. We pass bizarre "taxpayer relief" bills without reading them, rubber-stamping a plethora of corporate kickbacks and subsidies in the process when nobody's looking. And we require that ever more trivial jobs require credentials and continuing education, increasing the cost of pursuing just about any career path we may choose (I'll have more on that topic next week).
Absolutely none of these government policies does anything but slow economic growth and the pace of innovation, and they must all therefore be considered counter-productive with respect to American prosperity. As Mr. Cochrane so eloquently wrote, if we can't get a food truck to start up in Chicago without violating some arcane city code, how can anybody ever do anything of any value in this country without breaking the law? I wonder.