Portland reverses course on food truck lottery, grants permits to all applicants

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Days after announcing the results of a lottery for a new pilot program that would allow only 10 food trucks to park and serve customers on Cutter Street near Portland’s Eastern Promenade, the city reversed course and announced all 14 trucks that applied for a license would be allowed to park and operate there. 

Danielle West, Portland’s interim city manager, said via a press release that she appreciated the ability of food truck operators to meet with her quickly following the announcement of the pilot program.

“I appreciated hearing their thoughts and feedback regarding our plans for the food truck pilot program on the Eastern Promenade this season. I realize how important it is for them to know in advance where they can locate and operate. Given we are very close to the start of this pilot program, I wanted to make every effort to see if we could accommodate all of the food trucks that applied. After receiving the various truck dimensions from the operators, I’m happy to report that staff were able to reconfigure the space we have available in order to accommodate all 14 trucks,” said West.

Originally, On A Roll, BOGS Bakery, Cargo Pizza Company, Falafel Mafia, George’s North Shore, Gelato Fiasco, La Mega, Tacos La Poblanita, Twist, and Vy Banh Mi were selected to receive permits to park in the Cutter Street lot. Four other applicants for spots–Eighty 8 Donuts, Mr. Tuna, Maine Maple Creemee, and Cheese the Day and Ironclad Eats, which applied jointly to share a spot, did not receive a permit. 

After the news broke earlier this week, food truck owners who operate in the area began voicing their displeasure with the decision.

“The decision to hold a lottery was made without consideration to the trucks that have been doing business on the promenade for the past few years and without regard to menu differentiation. Due to this careless decision by the interim City Manager, people’s jobs and livelihoods are now at stake — not only at Mr. Tuna, but the handful of trucks who were not chosen. A petition with over 4,300 signatures in support of keeping food trucks on the Promenade was presented to the council members and overlooked, without so much as a reply to food truck owners’ concerns,” wrote food truck Mr. Tuna on Facebook.

Owners were also concerned with what the decision meant for the viability of their businesses. The pilot program is slated to begin June 15, leaving food truck owners displaced from their usual parking spots with little time to come up with alternatives to keep their businesses afloat. Displaced food trucks worried they would have to fire employees they’d hired for the summer season and noted that because they rely on business on the Eastern Prom, they’d turned down event invitations for the summer.

“We planned our whole summer around doing business on the promenade as we have the past two years. We have hired 10+ employees and turned down countless events, relying on sales from the hill. We feel this decision was rushed, as it was made last minute with zero guidelines or consideration for food truck owners’ concerns. We are asking the city to open the promenade to all food trucks or push this new plan to next year to allow time to properly plan,” Mr. Tuna continued via social media. 

Food truck owners, including those who had received a license to operate in the Cutter Street lot, gathered in front of Portland’s City Hall on June 2 to protest the program.

Falafel Mafia, one of the food trucks selected to receive a license in the lottery, shared their solidarity with trucks not chosen on social media.

“We do not support the lottery and the pilot program, being pushed into the lower lot by the rich in their mansions on the Eastern Prom to maintain their ocean view. This is a public park, not your private backyard,” Falafel Mafia wrote on Facebook

Later that day, the city announced all food trucks that had applied for a license would be allowed to park and operate their trucks in the Cutter Street lot.

“All we can say is WOW. It has been an emotional roller coaster these past two days. We are floored by the overwhelming support of our community. Because of you, we were able to turn this around. You can find us on the Eastern Promenade all summer long! We cannot say thank you enough to our regulars, friends and colleagues for calling, emailing, and sharing. It means the world to us,” Mr. Tuna posted on Facebook after the update to the program was announced.

However, several food truck owners are still unhappy with the pilot program’s changes.

“This new location on the Cutter St. lower lot presents its own challenges. We hope to have the opportunity to work with the city to make this a successful pilot program so the people of Portland can enjoy food trucks on the promenade for years to come,” Mr. Tuna continued.

The pilot program is the result of debate in the city about the impact food trucks, which have become popular through the pandemic, have on the local community. Throughout the spring, the Portland Parks Commission debated several options for how to handle food trucks in the Eastern Prom area and solicited public feedback.

Concerns about food truck operations on the Eastern Prom roadway included concerns about traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, environmental impacts on the nearby foliage, and quality of life issues such as noise and litter for nearby residents.

The parks commission considered several proposals for how to handle food trucks in the Eastern Prom location. Suggestions included creating a seasonal food truck court, located between Congress and Turner Streets, stripping parking from the residential side of the Eastern Prom to allow food trucks to park parallel to the road and shifting roadway travel lanes, and relocating them to the Cutter Street lot.

Inability to agree on a proposal led Michael Mertaugh, then chair of the parks commission, to resign in early April. Mergtaugh favored relocating the trucks to the Cutter Street lot but resigned over the commission’s lack of support for the proposal.

“To me, this outcome reveals a fundamental disjuncture among commissioners in the vision for our parks, and the importance that we attach to the historical and aesthetic dimensions of our parks,” wrote Murtaugh in an email submitting his resignation.

West announced her decision about which proposal to move forward with on April 29. In a letter to Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and the city council, West stated she intended to amend the city’s food truck rules to allow operations only within the Cutter Street lot.

“This option was favored by the vast majority of the public that provided public comment, and I believe it will be the most effective in balancing the priorities of residents, small business owners, and visitors to the Eastern Promenade,” West wrote. 

Food truck operators had until May 23 to apply for a license to operate in the Cutter Street lot.

West wrote she expected the changes to go into effect June 15. The pilot program is seasonal and will be in effect through November 15. West also noted the program will be “evaluated throughout the season in order to find opportunities to improve upon or revise it in 2023.”

Trucks will not be charged a fee for the license to operate out of the Cutter Street lot this season, though there may be a permit fee in the future. West has not indicated what the cost of the fee may be.

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