Food Vendors in Dolores Park

I’m reminded periodically that I’m not an investigative journalist, so I’ll leave that to the experts. Everything that I’ve been given by RPD is here for your own investigation. What I will do is disseminate information to you, provide my point of view, and hopefully, we’ll start a dialogue about it and figure out our collective POV.

Another situation of where to begin… I was recently contacted by Nicolas Kinsey with Rec and Park Dept (RPD) about Blue Bottle’s permit in Dolores Park. The commission meeting was just around the corner and he wanted my opinion. I told him that this is the first time I’d heard that Blue Bottle had been chosen. I asked about how neighbors were consulted about vendors in the park, if local business were approach to provide a proposal, and how waste was going to be handled. He addressed the waste management issue somewhat, but fell short on satisfying me on the others. So I followed up with him and Nicole Avril with RPD. This is what I’ve learned.

Background Info

The RFP was released in September 24, 2009 via RPD’s website. From what I’ve received from Nicole, there have been three Rec and Park Commission meetings about vendors and permits.

The meeting on February 9, 2010 was to approve specific pushcart operators in city parks (La Cocina and Blue Bottle for Dolores Park). The meeting on April 15 was to approve permits for specific pushcart operator permits (La Cocina) and the meeting on September 2 was to approve a permit for Blue Bottle.

According to SF Weekly, one of La Cocina’s vendors will be selling food seven days a week in a trailer and there is a second spot with pushcart vendors that will sell only on weekends.  Blue Bottle’s permit was reduced from five years to two and the cart will be located somewhere along 20th and will sell 7 days a week from 8 AM – 4 PM. I assume La Cocina’s is still five years.

RPD’s outreach methods have consisted of: publication of the RFP on RPD’s website (I’m sure we all visit that regularly), placing an ad in the July 31, 2009 SF Chronicle, emailing all parties who expressed an interest in the program [I read that as potential vendors, not neighbors], emailing all department’s potential bidder’s database, responding to verbal and written queries from hundreds of individuals and businesses and articles in SF Examiner and SF Chronicle, plus blogs on SF Eater, SF Weekly, SFist, and Grub Street.  It also says that we and other community groups and businesses were notified. (Source: RPC_090210_DoloresParkBlueBottle.PDF, page 2).

According to Nicole, “The funds go into a pool for operating funds, out of which all dolores park expenses are paid. Concessions at all parks, i.e. Golden Gate Park and Civic Center Plaza, go into this fund. Until now, these parks subsidized Dolores Park which did not raise any funds to contribute to the pool.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t put Dolores Park in the same category as Golden Gate Park or Civic Center Plaza. If that’s the vision RPD has for our park, then I’m scared. Also, who decided Dolores needed to get a job to bring home the bacon for RPD? If they are going to have to work for it then, I think she (Dolores) should get some of the dough, no?

From SF Chronicle, July 17, 2009

Outreach

Let’s be clear: We love Blue Bottle Coffee and La Cocina! I’ve had conversations with Acting Executive Director Caleb Zigas about it and feel La Cocina would be a strong partner for the park. I’m sure Blue Bottle would be as well. This is not about them specifically, but rather RPD’s outreach process. The lack of proactive communication from RPD with the communities involved has been a reoccurring issue for our community and Dolores Park Works.

To be fair, I read about the La Cocina coming to Dolores Park months ago. For a while, my biggest concern regarding Dolores Park was keeping it clean. Our role as an organization has expanded and as the new Director of Advocacy, I plan to be much more ahead of the issues. That said, I assumed that outreach by RPD had already taken place. Why else would they have approved permits for vendors in our park?

Surely the neighbors were informed through a mailing or community meeting. Alas, we just learned that the process was moving forward without community input. Not everyone reads blogs. It’s strange, but I’ve even met neighbors that don’t even own a computer.  Online media doesn’t work for everyone.

Dolores Park Works wasn’t even notified until last month. Considering this process started last summer, this is rather disappointing. Plus, I just spoke with Gideon Kramer of SafeCleanGreen, and he says he was never notified, despite what it said on documents presented to the commission on Sept 2. We haven’t time to reach out to our community and form a position. Dolores Park Works does not oppose vendors in the park per say, but there are big questions that need answering and this process has not allowed for it.

Are we commercializing Dolores Park or filling a void? Will established vendors turn Dolores Park into a fairground?

What’s the impact on the park’s infrastructure? The park’s trashcans are already overflowing. How will having vendors on site help or hurt this?

What about the local, off-permit vendors that make a living walking the park selling their goods? Does having RPD-sponsored vendors on site kill that culture that some of us have grown to love and appreciate?

How did it go from pushcarts to a trailer?

How much of the money raised will be dedicated to Dolores Park? Will it be guaranteed?

I don’t have the answers and that’s why I feel that this process is flawed. What we oppose is the lack of direct outreach to community groups, park patrons, and neighbors that are impacted by vendors in the park and adequate time to make decisions about whether we even want vendors in Dolores Park.

Nicole says the permitting process is “ongoing” and that RPD is reaching out to us “so they could express their feelings to the commission before the commission made a decision.” And here, I thought the commission had already approved the permit. This is so confusing. I’ve asked for clarification.

What do you think?

Additional Resources

RPD’s Memo for Blue Bottle’s permit at Commission Meeting 04/15/10

RPD’s Memo for La Cocina’s permit at Commission Meeting 09/02/10

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3 comments
Kathy Howard
Kathy Howard

I share your concerns about the impact of the food trucks on Dolores Park. I also envisioned a small, quaint pushcart -- not a truck.

Your efforts to preserve your park resonate with me. I have been active in recent years in preserving the Music Concourse and trying to keep it from over-commercialization and destruction of its basic historic character. Friends of the Music Concourse recently submitted a memo to the Recreation and Park Commission and to the Historic Preservation Commission, asking that the new hot dog and other food vendors, the recently approved Segway stand, and the proposed bike rental stand be reviewed for historic appropriateness. Yes, all of those are planned for next to the Bandshell! Friends of the Music Concourse has requested that an overall plan be drawn up that will enhance, not detract, from the Music Concourse. A positive plan for this area has already been outlined in the Golden Gate Park Master Plan. More information and a copy of our memo can be obtained by signing on to www.musicconcourse.org.

As someone who has been attending Recreation and Park Commission meetings the last few years, I have also been active in trying to preserve what is left of the "Park" in Golden Gate Park. You might be interested to know that the proceeds from the Outside Lands Concert, which were originally to benefit Golden Gate Park directly, now do not. Any plans you have to try to get benefits for Dolores Park should be checked carefully.

Good luck in your park preservation efforts!

Kathy Howard

Claudia
Claudia

Hi all,
I have unfortunately heard about your meeting too late but here are my 2 cents worth -
living right on the park I love the park the way it is, NO branding necessary - esp in the early morning, anybody who really needs coffee brings it on their walk or can easily jog down to 18th St...
PLEASE keep our park commercial free..it is rather small compared to the ones the owner of BLUE Bottle coffee was referring to and if I recall correctly Vila Borghese does not have food carts but a beautiful restaurant in the center....
DO vending machines and carts need to be omnipresent in our culture? NO cookies right next to the playground...who are we kidding? it is very hard to have to keep saying NO to kids, esp if it is right in their walking/pedaling/playing path.

Obesity is taking it's toll w/o these constant lures...

Also, a little planning to pack lunch or have a picnic with friends is what our slow food culture was all about I thought....or is it more about lucrative business expansion.

Regards, Claudia

Dolores Clean
Dolores Clean

Nicely written article, and I have a similar reaction, and experience. I think its awesome that blue bottle will sell coffee at the park, but it seems like the opportunities in privatization or Rec and Park facilities is all hush, hush. A private party for privatization? For example, I get postal mailings from Rec and Park about the Children's Playground renovation, but received nothing about this.

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