Blue Bottle Out – Democracy or Anarchy?

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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.”

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15 Comments

  1. mission local

    chicken john is misguided

  2. It got ugly bcuz Rec and Park failed Process

    This article misses the obvious point that Rec and Park messed up in failing to do the community outreach process. The situation should not have gotten ugly, but it became inevitable when Rec and Park tried to push ahead even after their mistakes were pointed out. Democracy got messy because they the RPD did not properly deal with its mistake.

  3. Chicken john

    Well. I could write a book retorting this. But you are missing a crucial fact: Noone wants park space turned onto stores for profit. If you don’t beleive that, then you are not listening to me. Or don’t want to. And that’s OK. I respect your right to hyperbolize. I do it all the time. It’s an effective way of getting a point across. I’m sure you’ll agree. When the courts didn’t do justice for Harvey Milk, we the people fuckin’ rioted. Things got messy. People were name called. That’s what happens when people get steamrolled.

    Don’t steamroll people. And people will be civil and kind. Steamroll, and things get ugly. Bit at no point in tome did anyone want more then fair process. Deny people fair process, and people will look to other ways to gain power. Duh.

    You can make. This about coffe, or mr or him or her but it’s really a huge issue. Bureaucrats are selling our public spaces off to cover bloated budgets. 23 acres in HP, for example. In West Virginia, the are blowing the tops of mountains off for coal mining in state parks. There are logos everywhere. Every square inch is being considered for $. If we keep letting money win the day, I have no faith that things won’t go too far, one corruption at a time.

    And you will see how many oppose this. With fair due process comes a hearing. And at that hearing just like for American Apparal the will be 98% against. 1,000 people showed up. This is not 1 or 2 loud voices. You are dead wrong.

    You’ll see…

    Chicken

  4. Michael McConnell

    So there has been lots of back and forth on this issue on blogs and it seems like there is something the media is totally getting wrong or omitting. Maybe that is because these are mainly foodie type blogs (that just for the record not every person living around Dolores Park reads) or it’s easier to pin the merchants against each other because it makes for a juicy story or angle. But I wanted to state again that from the beginning I (who found out 7 days before the permitting process was to happen- which is not the proper amount of notice) have been bothered by the process conducted by RPD and have nothing personal against Blue Bottle or La Cocina. I have attended all the meetings and public hearings about this since the conflict started way back at the end of August, and since people like Alex Chaffee are calling for documents and such, here is a link to the minutes from the September 19th RP Commission Meeting. http://sfrecpark.org/documents/FileTree/Commission/Minutes/2010/091610%20MINUTES.pdf
    I am assuming this is public record and you can read from the beginning that several organizations who are involved heavily with the park were not notified, a statement from Rachel of DPC asking, myself, Sam Mogannam of Bi-Rite Market, and Crystal who used to be on the Board of DPW (note that she was asked by a public official not to address the Commission). I will let you read it and form your own opinion.
    It is unfortunate that James Freeman took the blog posts so serious and felt threatened, I am sure his trailer will be successful wherever it finds a home. He has proven he runs a great business. I do however hope that he can now see how all the mud-slinging, name calling(NIMBY), threats of boycotting, and accusations of crying “sour grapes” from his devoted Blue Bottle fans has possibly effected some of us in the Dolores Park Community.
    I look forward to continuing the conversation and working towards coming up with creative solutions to raise money for our beloved parks.
    Sorry this is so long-
    Best
    Michael McConnell, co-owner Fayes Video and Espresso Bar.

  5. Michael McConnell

    oh and here is Chicken Johns entire post on that article:

    “Here is a thought…if you don’t like Blue Bottle, go somewhere else! ”

    I see. Go somewhere else. I think that when it comes to selling our parks to stores that you can’t use the go somewhere else line. You use that line with brick and mortar.

    I’m getting stuck. Did you really ask me to go to another park if I don’t want to go to a park with stores in it? Because if this is my oppostion here, this is going to be really easy.

    It’s true that 4 Barrel was built with Stumptown money. Does that make 4 Barrel a chain store? Does it? So could Starbucks open a cafe on Valencia and 20th and call it Sharkbucks? Seriously, could that happen? Are there laws to protect us from this kind of thing? Do we need to be protected? Do we need legislation that would prevent RPD from steamrolling a community park into selling off spots to stores?

    I’m sure that this would make excellent dialog. You can guess how I would think. But as for BB, it seems as if they wish to be the company that ‘breaks’ Dolores Park. Which is going to be messy. And uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. People are spitting mad. If it is true that they didn’t see this comming, which I find impossible, then if I were them I’d run. There are going to be a thousand people there spitting on them on their opening day. Fucking riot cops. If it’s true that they will IPO this year, that might be slightly bad for their brand. Slightly very much so.

    It’s really about reaching out. People just want to know that if something is out of control, there is a recourse. It’s a due process thing. BB might be guiltless, and it’s just RPD that’s being sneaky. But since BB is the company that is going to profit (allegedly, not if we don’t set up a coffee stand in front of theirs giving away coffee), they are bearing the brunt of anger.

    And if you don’t agree with me that RPD’s process was deplorable, then you should be happy to know that although we will stop this, somehow, we will lose this battle eventually and our parks will become food courts and you’ll complain about something else. But for now, you can complain about me. Because I’m going to figger out how to stop this. Because RPD is selling space in our parks to stores. Which 10 years ago would have been off the table. It’s treason, I say.

    Your mileage may vary. Why doesn’t 7×7 magazine do some fair and balanced journalism and actually uncover some facts? Nah, why would they do that? It’s all just fluff for advertising. You will make this about coffee, but really this is an arts issue. There are simply some things that must exist outside of commerce. And I do not trust that RPD has our best interests in mind. I also do not trust that any process that can’t be stopped is a good idea. The opportunity for malfeasance is too great. I beleive that this selling of spots in our park was done in a sneaky, smarmy and gross way. I am appauled and outraged and so our thousands of other people. Thousands. Not like me and my 3 friends. We are hearing from thousands of people.

    thank you for reading

  6. 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 the “public” doesn’t seem to want these amenities. Consistently, at public meetings, the public has been against the permits. And it’s not just “a few loud voices.” Commissioner Buell ridiculed the petition from a few weeks ago, and admittedly its language could have been more neutral. Still, the fact is that over 800 people signed it within just four days. Is that “a few loud voices”?

    I’m not a business owner, I’m just a local guy trying to keep a city commission from steamrolling something through.

  7. randolph mortimer

    can someone tell me when democracy became about those who yell loudest and longest getting their way ?

  8. 0101

    COLD BEER COLD WATER

  9. Chicken john

    Give us a hearing. You will finds thousands of people oppose this. Thousands of people will come to that hearing. Thousands of people will take time out of their day to stop RPD from selling our parks amd public space. AND those same people will enthosiasticly fund raise to meet the budget shortfall. Saying this is a few loud voices is cowardly, boring, false and despicable. Give us a hearing. You will sing a different song.

    Although I’m loud, I act through communication with my list. Which is 5,000 people. I send things to my list, people get whooped up and support action. That’s how this works. It’s a good system. I don’t just burst in wherever I feel like it. That’s mot good leadership.

    We asked for a fair process. We were shut down. So our next action would be to protest. Duh. You know how this is done. Anyone who beleive that anyone at anytime threatened anyone with violence is a pussy. You talk loud and pushy when the man shuts you down.

    You whiners are all old or something. It’s just a trailer in the park. It’s not worth staing your soul with lies or violence. Although there are some things that are.

    To have a process immune from any appeals process in 2010 is gotta get a frown from everyone. If I’m wrong, at least you know how I think.

  10. SickOfChicken

    Chicken John Rinaldi is nothing more than a fame seeking loudmouth. He is unreliable, unstable, and not very funny. Unfortunately in this case the loudmouth was right, however, I agree with the fool in protest.

  11. alsosickofchicken

    People like John Rinaldi are the biggest NIMBYs there are – the ‘I only want my alternatively cool retailers or merchants near me’. Please spare me you’re white privilege bs, and move to Oakland, so you can fight with other white people to keep it ‘cool’ while you displace the other folks that live there.

  12. cjisarealdipshit

    sometimes folks live in the sf bubble a little too long, and then they confuse running a good coffee vendor out of dolores park with something meaningful.

    hey chicken, go (edited).

  13. firedog

    The public outreach and process for these food-vending operations in Dolores Park was a disaster. Blue Bottle was proposing a large steel, waffle-fronted cart directly next to the kiddie playground, complete with a noisy propane generator – pretty crude. The other vendors were not much better, all selling the likes of cakes, other dessert food, and greasy snacks. This in spite of the bad ongoing problems of litter in Dolores Park and the notoriously bad restrooms. The little Park House in the middle of the park is a ghastly dilapidated relic of bad institutional design from the 1940s, and there are no plans to improve it. When people appeared to testify at the Park & Rec Commission to testify, they were curtly informed that Park & Rec. had already made their decision, and that they were just listening to testimony as a courtesy. Yes, that is “steamrolling” !!

  14. alsosickofchicken

    Please spare me the ‘we’re so concerned with healthy food near Dolores Park’. I forgot how healthy Bi-Rite ice cream and pastries from Tartine are.

    Yes, the process could be made more democratic, but also this could have made money for Park & Rec to put in new bathrooms in the park, and for other improvements sorely needed from everybody treating that park as their personal trash pit. But what business would even bother now?

  15. halle

    Thousands are against this? How about thousands are for this? Parks and Rec went through a public process. But the businesses around the park didn’t want more businesses in the area, pure and simple. The park isn’t just there for them, it’s for all of us. And most of us would love some more amenities in the parks. Or rather, legal amenities that contribute to maintaining the park rather than all the illegal vendors who just throw their trash around. Comparing it to mountain-top mining or claiming its going to “break” the park is just ridiculous and offensive. These are limited-term leases that can be ended on 30 days notice so if people really don’t like it, there’s an out. Its coffee and mexican food in the park – that already exists in the park so what’s the big deal?? I’ll will make sure to never pick up another coffee at Fayes

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