By Gaige Davila
South Padre Island city council postponed acting—whether to change, renew, or remove—on an ordinance permitting food trucks to operate on South Padre Island, during an “emergency” meeting on Monday, December 16. The meeting was announced Friday, December 13, by the City of South Padre Island. Council members Joe Ricco and Alita Bagley were not present for the meeting.
South Padre Island city attorney Ricardo Navarro recommended council to postpone acting on the ordinance until he “got up to speed on some of the legal questions that bear on the litigation,” he said.
A “presentation and discussion” on food trucks was also listed on the meeting’s agenda, but told the South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty to pull the item sometime Friday, December 13, Navarro told the PRESS after the meeting ended. Victor Baldovinos, Environmental Health Director for the City of South Padre Island, placed the presentation on the agena and was present for the meeting.
“I just need time to get into the lawsuit and find out more about where they’re at,” Navarro said. “It’s not been vetted properly, it’s premature.”
Navarro could not give an estimate on how long it would take for him to research the lawsuit and ordinance.
Food truck owners spoke to council members during the meeting’s allotted time for public comments, describing their compliance with the city’s food truck operating procedures and wanting to work with council as they considered acting on the ordinance.
Jerry Leal, owner of Pineapple Ninjaz, a McAllen-based food truck operating around South Padre Island, told council members, before they exited the room for executive session, that he wanted to work alongside council for policy development of food trucks operating on the Island.
After council members exited the room for executive session at 10:46 a.m., returning at 11:20 a.m., Navarro recommended council members to postpone deciding on city ordinance 18-15, listed in Chapter 10, subsection 30, of the city’s Code of Ordinances, which outlines how food trucks are permitted to operate on the Island. Ordinance No. 17-05, listed on the emergency meeting’s agenda, is not listed in the online version of the city’s Code of Ordinance book and could not be verified by the PRESS as having to do with food trucks on the Island.
The council’s executive session was for an attorney consultation, where council members were briefed on an ongoing lawsuit against the city from SurfVive food truck owners Ryan Maucaulay and Erica Lerma and Chile De Arbol food truck owners Anubis and Ramses Avalos. The case, represented by Institute of Justice Managing Attorney Arif Panju, challenges the state constitutionality of two stipulations for food truck operation on the island: a permit cap of only 12 food trucks operating on the Island, and requiring an Island restaurant owner to sign off on a permit application.
Panju said these stipulations use government power to affect market competition and are unconstitutional.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a local restaurant owner: these are entrepreneurs who take a risk and earn a living,” Panju said. “What is not okay is when the leverage of government power is used to protect restaurant owners from food truck competition. That’s when the constitution is violated.”
SurfVive and Chile De Arbol’s lawsuit will be heard in the 138th District Court of Cameron County on January 8, at 9:00 a.m. During the hearing, the judge, Arturo C. Nelson will decide on the two motions Panju filed: whether to issue sanctions against the City of South Padre Island to sit for a deposition and protecting the plaintiff involved in the case.