The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has put a freeze on permits granting Blue Bottle Coffee and La Cocina the first official pushcart privileges in Dolores Park. The hold will remain until at least next week, when park advocates meet to discuss the situation.
The delay came after disgruntled residents and local business owners complained that the parks department had done too little outreach to local vendors before awarding the permits earlier this year to La Cocina, a Mission District nonprofit incubator for local aspiring chefs, and Blue Bottle, an expanding coffee franchise founded in Oakland.
La Cocina’s executive director, Caleb Zigas, said he had expected to roll into the park this week and is disappointed by the delay. In the past four months he’s poured $28,000 in grant money into La Cocina’s food trailer, which is now sitting in storage.
“We are ready to go the moment Rec and Parks tells us we can go,” Zigas said.
The department is holding out until after a community meeting on the issue, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, September 27, at Dolores Park Church. Representatives from the parks department will be there.
The city said it began the permit process in July 2009, when the department issued a request for proposals for mobile food vendors in the park – a move to boost department revenue. Commissioners approved proposals from La Cocina and Blue Bottle in January of this year.
People who called for the permit delay said they were never informed that the leases were up for grabs, and found out by happenstance on September 13 at a meeting about pending renovations in the park. Three days later, at a Recreation and Park Commission meeting, a handful of local business owners and residents lambasted the department for what they called negligent public outreach.
“We are not necessarily against local business as a vendor in the park … but we’re against Rec and Parks unilaterally deciding to commercialize our neighborhood park, especially without attempting to get community input,” Lindsay Kefauver, a member of Dolores Park Volunteers and other local groups, told commissioners at the meeting.
In an e-mail to Mission Loc@l, parks department spokesman Elton Pon cited efforts to alert the public that included placing an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle that ran July 31, 2009, and mailing an announcement of the opportunity to more than 1,000 potential applicants.
That’s not enough, said the park-lovers and local proprietors who found themselves out of the loop.
Eileen Hassi, who owns Ritual Coffee Roasters, which is four blocks away from the park on Valencia Street, said she didn’t learn about the permits until last month. When asked if outreach could have been better, she responded, “Absolutely.”
“I know a ton of people who wanted to apply, and none of them knew about [the opportunity],” she added.
Fayes Video and Espresso Bar co-owner Matthew Troy said he resented not receiving an explicit alert during the process. He has questions he wants answered before food vendors set up shop in the park.
“I think we have to ask, do we need vendors in the park? Do we need trailers set up? Why only two? Why just these two? Why coffee? I don’t know these things.”
Under the lease agreements, which run two years, Blue Bottle and La Cocina are required to pay $12,000 or 10 percent of their annual earnings to the department. That money will go into the general parks fund, and won’t necessarily feed directly into Dolores Park – a stipulation proponents of the delay take issue with.
The wave of pushback isn’t meant to block Blue Bottle or La Cocina from setting up shop, said the owners and residents who called for the hold.
“We don’t want to drag this out,” said Crystal Vann Wallstrom, cofounder of Dolores Park Works, the group hosting Monday’s meeting.
For Zigas, the delay strikes an untimely blow.
“At this point we’re missing sunny-day opportunities,” he said. “It looks like we won’t launch until the rainy days, which is too bad.”