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Dolores Park Food Truck Plan Draws Ire

Michelle Haft, center, meets with friends at Dolores Park on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010
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Michelle Haft, center, meets with friends at Dolores Park on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010
 
Permits for taco and coffee carts upset neighborhood groups

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department did not expect its decision to permit two vendors inside the Mission District's popular Dolores Park to raise many eyebrows.

The food trucks — Blue Bottle coffee and the nonprofit food business incubator La Cocina — would offer the estimated 1.2 million annual visitors access to two beloved Mission treats, fancy coffee and tacos, and bring money to city coffers.

But a group of neighbors, business owners and Stephen Elliott, an author who spearheaded last year's successful campaign to stop American Apparel from opening on Valencia Street, begged to differ.

Over the past few weeks, contentious discussion has raged online and in community meetings over bringing commercial activity inside the park. Some also argued that not enough notice had been given about the trucks, which are equipped for four employees and include a generator.

"The process is so deeply flawed," Elliott said about the permits.

Amid rhetoric of varying civility, James Freeman, owner of Oakland-based Blue Bottle coffee, announced on Wednesday that he would not use his permit. The coffee trailer, which he spent around $25,000 outfitting, will go to other places.

"With being compared to McDonald's and the threats of spitting — at the end of the day, I don't have to do this," said Freeman, referring to online comments likening his entrance to the park to opening a fast food chain.

Caleb Zigas, acting executive director of La Cocina, said that the taco purveyor El Huarache Loco, which is leasing a permit, is on schedule to begin operating in the park next month.

The permits are good for two years of daily operation and were expected to earn $65,000 annually for the city. The recreation and parks department has not decided whether it will pursue another vendor permit in the wake of Blue Bottle's exit, a spokesman said.

Currently, the department has a $12.4 million budget shortfall.

Zigas of La Cocina said there was "a measure of irony" in the contention that the department was ignoring the public. "Rec and Park had the capacity to make a progressive response to a national trend of food carts," Zigas said. "We saw it as a positive San Francisco innovation."

The permits — priced at $1,000 per month, with the department taking 10 percent of earnings — cost far less than opening a brick-and-mortar business.

The department said that it planned on moving forward with permits in other parks, although it declined to say which ones.

The feeling, even among those who railed against the trucks, appeared to be muted.

"No one's winning in this situation," said Crystal Vann Wallstrom, one of the founders of the neighborhood advocacy group Dolores Park Works.

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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