Some say it was democracy in action, others call it thinly veiled intimidation.
Either way, Blue Bottle Coffee’s planned trailer in Dolores Park is dead on arrival.
As reported by the Bay Citizen yesterday, the Oakland-based coffee company has decided to pull out of its Dolores Park trailer venture. It was a coup for disgruntled neighbors who had protested what they saw as the commercialization of the iconic park, but whose cause was seemingly all but hopeless last week.
For James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, it was the end of a year’s worth of paperwork and meetings, thousands of dollars in equipment and an idea.
“The whole goal was charming and innocuous,” said Freeman. “When we realized it was going to be neither of those things, it was worth it to walk away.
“Basically, we all got sick of talking about Dolores Park every single day. It demanded more attention than it really deserved.” So when it was determined yesterday that he could find enough work to occupy the four new hires he’d made to staff the trailer, Freeman said the choice was clear.
Caleb Zigas, director of nonprofit La Cocina, which holds the other permit, said he met with parks officials today to scout a location for their trailer. They plan to have their vendor, El Huarache Loco, in place within a couple weeks. “I really respected James,” said Zigas. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out for him.”
In a prepared statement, Recreation and Park Department spokesman Elton Pon said, “Our goals remain to meet the public’s desire for more amenities in their parks and to develop sources of revenue…. It’s unfortunate that a few loud voices chased away a reputable coffee vendor in Dolores Park, but we will continue to work with park users and neighborhoods.”
Freeman said the rumors and rhetoric swirling about the blogosphere had become increasingly caustic since Mission Loc@l spoke with him last week. Then, it still seemed possible that the trailer would be serving its first lattes by month’s end.
On the 7×7 website, which featured an interview with Freeman last week, one-time mayoral candidate “Chicken” John Rinaldi left comments vowing that Freeman’s move into the park would be “messy” and “uncomfortable.”
“There are going to be a thousand people there spitting on them on their opening day,” wrote Rinaldi.
Such comments were, according to Freeman, central to his decision to back down. “The tide kind of turned and it just got distasteful.”
“This is the process. This is what democracy is like. It’s messy,” Rinaldi said in an interview last night.
A well-known character in the Mission and vocal opponent of American Apparel’s failed plan to open a neighborhood storefront, Rinaldi is a relative latecomer to the Dolores Park food cart debate.
Once plans by the Recreation and Park Department to permit food vendors in the park were discovered, opposition that included local business owners and neighbors was organized almost immediately. Many complained that they’d been notified of the permits only after the vendors had been selected, while others felt that the parks department did little to address their concerns.
The department put a hold on finalizing the permits to provide time for community meetings, and the debates over vendors in the park have gone on for weeks. Rinaldi, who joined the game recently after learning about the trailers, has set the tone of the discussion in several ways, including penning a petition against the move that was widely circulated online and by area businesses, including Faye’s Video and Espresso Bar and Dolores Park Café.
But even some who agree with the cause say the tenor of recent comments is unfounded.
Kevin Montgomery, the publisher of Uptown Almanac who earlier accused Chicken John of hijacking the opposition, said Rinaldi’s tactics were uncalled for. “Threatening people and property is not how normal adults get their way,” wrote Montgomery. “This wasn’t the way to win.”
Another commenter on Uptown Almanac, identifying himself as Alex Chaffee, agreed. “A month ago this was a nice orderly community process. We were having a nice friendly conversation — with occasional healthy name-calling.”
Rinaldi is unapologetic.
“Sometimes you got to crack a couple eggs to make something happen.”