June 14, 2012

Double Trouble In Maplewood

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Maplewood City Council voted Tuesday night to ban food trucks from operating within city limits. Additionally, the City Council moved forward with a redevelopment plan for the Deer Creek Center, approving the area as a Community Improvement District (CID) and giving a stamp of approval to the redevelopment agreement. In one fell swoop, the City Council managed to limit competition in the food service business and pave the way for yet another development project that will use Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

Policy analysts for the Show-Me Institute have written extensively about food truck regulations, and now Maplewood has jumped on the regulation bandwagon. City Council members who voted in favor of the ban said they were concerned that the food trucks would “cannibalize” existing businesses in the area. I think they are confusing cannibalism with another “c” word that is vital to any market-driven society: competition. Protectionism is bad for new vendors in the short term, but also bad for consumers in the long run because competition improves choice and helps keep prices reasonable. Yet, in Maplewood, because a new food concept is creative, mobile, and relatively inexpensive, it has brick-and-mortar restaurant owners running to the City Council crying foul. Government should not be putting limitations on ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

As if the food truck prohibition was not enough, Maplewood officials moved forward with the plan to redevelop the Deer Creek Center, likely to be paid in part with TIF. Although the Saint Louis County TIF Commission rejected the request for $8.5 million in public funding in January, it would only take a 5-2 vote from the Maplewood City Council to approve the funding. According to the Post-Dispatch, that is expected to happen when the City Council meets later this month. This is yet another example of a city overriding a county TIF commission so that the city can impose its will on the entire county.

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