Op-Ed: Liberty lost in Hurricane, how one city lost its way over some tables

Sonny Boy's Barbecue Express, Hurricane, Utah, 2012 | Photo from "We Support Sunny's BBQ" facebook

OPINION EDITORIAL – Liberty is defined as “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.”  Some will say that liberty is the ability to act as long as I am not infringing on another’s liberty. And capitalism allows for the free exchange of goods and services between citizens. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, except in Hurricane, Utah.

Here is what has recently transpired in Hurricane. A small business owner set up a trailer, after having complied with all Hurricane City requirements, on State Street to serve BBQ products. In this process, they set up around six picnic tables for their patrons to use. A short time later, the city notified them that they had now banned the use of tables at this location.

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning, but without understanding.”

~Louis D. Brandeis

As many of you know, it is hard to eat BBQ without the protection of a table. Or is that just me?

Well, I felt this was not only an assault on this business, but also an attack on its patrons.  Why did the city feel the need to punish us, the consumers? We are the ones who sit on the tables.

No one knew the answer, so I called the city directly. The conversation that followed not only made my blood boil, but it also left me speechless. To sum up our conversation, I was basically told that Sonny Boy’s BBQ Express had not paid enough in impact fees to the city to deserve having tables for its customers. Yep. You read that right.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

~Thomas Jefferson

Let me rephrase it for you. The City of Hurricane felt like the BBQ business shouldn’t be able to offer its customers tables, because it hadn’t given the city as much money as their competitors had. I know. My jaw is still sore from the reverberating bounce off the floor.

Is Sonny’s BBQ allowed to operate without burdensome restrictions?  Obviously not.  Offering tables to your customers seems like a common sense conclusion for someone in the food business, but this small business is not allowed to make that choice. Liberty has been denied.

But why? Was it because the tables were unsafe? Nope. Was it because the tables offered a community health hazard (I called the health department and asked)? Nope.  Was it because the tables were made in China? Nope. Was there a city law or regulation against the use of tables at an eating establishment?  Of course there isn’t. The reason was that Sonny Boy’s BBQ Express had not paid the city as much money as the other restaurants had.

When the mob does this, it is called protection money. In a nut shell it goes like this: The BBQ place had not paid enough “protection money” (also known as impact fees) as their competitors had, so the city was not going to allow them to offer tables to their customers.

The impact a business should not be measured by how much water, electricity, or sewer they use, but by the beneficial contribution they offer the community.

Here is the question that the people of Hurricane need to answer: Should a new business be required to pay the same amount of tax as their competitors in order to offer the same services, or should the OPPORTUNITY itself be fair, and let the businesses decide their own course of action?

No city should be allowed to decide what services a business can offer its clients based on the amount of tax paid to that city. If that were the case, how many home based businesses would have to close their business down? Ultimately, the community is best served by the variety and choice of places to do business including food vendors.  One of the things that make America great is the ability for a small business to exist and thrive on its own merit. When a government agency gets to decide what that business can or can’t do based on the amount of tax paid, we become something other than a free market republic.

Sonny Boy’s BBQ Express should not be punished by the city because they came up with a more efficient and less costly business model than their competitors.

I know that this may seem like a small matter to many, but it not a small matter to the BBQ place or its customers.  Remember that the slippery slope of tyranny always starts with the smallest of actions.  Always remember that the citizens own the government, not the other way around.

This opinion piece was written with the information I had received at the time (about a week ago).  Initially I was told the tables were prohibited by the health department.  I called the health department, and they denied this.  So when I called the city, I was told it was do to the impact fees as illustrated in my article. Apparently now the city is claiming it is a licensing issue.

Submitted by:  Ryan Carter

Related story: Seating ban at Sonny Boy’s spawns protest

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  • Tom May 8, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Simple Fix for Sonny’s. Pay the fee every other sit down establishment has to pay. Then you will be allowed to have tables. I don’t get why this is even controversial. They apply for one type of business, turn it into another, then want the lack of fee’s that the first business came with.

  • S. Victor May 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

    I have to agree. Mr. Carter is trying to twist this around so it sounds more controversial. Every food establishment is required to pay a fee for the seating. The owners just don’t want to spend the money they should spend to have seating. To try to say “they don’t pay as much protection money” is just stupid. Sonny’s is trying to avoid the fee’s that were put in place long before they decided to open up shop. This is the reason Sonny’s designed the business around not having tables in the first place.

  • Tim Taylor May 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    One of the “attractions” of Sonny’s is that it’s a mobile platform. A consequence of this is that it doesn’t have the same sanitary considerations for customers that permanent establishments have. Financially this gives an advantage to mobile vendors, though being a disadvantage to the customer.

    That, and the high winds that Hurricane often has (I’m a resident) makes me glad that my city’s government is requiring Sonny’s & any similar establishment to pay extra for studies on outdoor seating & then guidelines & enforcement if they do get it.

    If Sonny’s wants it, they know what they have to do. One thing that’s NOT going to help them is for people to whine & blow the simple matter out of proportion by claiming it’s some example of totalitarianism.

    The one other mobile food vendor business nearby does extremely well with their to-go only operation and no one is crying about not being able to eat their pizza right there on a table in the parking-lot!

  • Heather May 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    @S.Victor Saying “This is the reason Sonny’s designed the business around not having tables in the first place.” ss completely false and must be an assumption made by a person without information or knowledge of the situation. Also, the owners of Sonny Boy`s Barbecue Express are not the ones causing the ruckus, so to assume things about their character or intentions is wrong.

    @Tom “They apply for one type of business, turn it into another, then want the lack of fee’s that the first business came with.” This statement is also false. It is recorded (by the city) when the owners applied for the licensing they stated tables for seating would be a part of their business. If the city had a fee or regulations regarding seating it should have been delt with then ( not months after the fact).

    You know what they say about ASSumptions…

  • HerpaDerp May 18, 2012 at 3:50 am

    The term First World Problems come to mind. Only First Worlders could take not being able to sit on their fat asses to eat BBQ as Totalitarianism. How about we ask the Jews who died in Concentration Camps, Africans killed by Italian Fascists, victims of Pol Pot, or even the dead from Chile under Pinochet about Totalitarianism.

    Is there a problem here? Yes. Is this Totalitarianism? No. I am growing tired of stupid Americans equating stupid First World Problems with actual political violence both past and present. Get over yourself.

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