The debate surrounding the commercialization of Dolores Park sure has been heating up lately. Earlier this week, Stephen Elliot, the man largely responsible for preventing American Apparel from opening up shop on Valencia Street in 2009, took up the cause and launched “Stop the Trailer.” Stephen easily has the capability to see some success on this issue given his network of businesses and track-record of victory. He even has devoted himself to undermine Blue Bottle's business by standing in front of their trailer and offering free coffee to all their patrons.
The general campaign against these trailers makes many good points: Dolores Park is already used to its max, the trailers, generators and accompanying lines will be a visual and audible blight and, most importantly, parks are meant to be for leisure, sport and unfettered drinking.
However, Stephen and other neighbor's campaign is being subverted by Chicken John. He defends his use of the “McDonald's is coming!“ hyperbole in his straw-man petition because it was successful, “time was short and we needed knee-jerk reactions. Which we got.” He spends his time trying to paint local business Blue Bottle as a corporate monster, but completely ignores that La Cocina will be operating a similar truck, all while parading around Ritual Roaster's trailer on federal land. Worst of all, Chicken John is a man with previously no visibility on park matters. Of the half dozen or so community meetings I've been to over the past year, he never once showed his face or rallied his crew of Laughing Squid fanboys. This guy doesn't care about “Dolores Park's soul;” he is, yet again, merely using this controversy as a tool for self-promotion.
Time is poorly spent defining what types of businesses should be allowed to vend on public land. More importantly, it's hard to fault Blue Bottle or La Cocina for taking this offer—Rec. & Park truly offered an incredible deal. As anyone who has ever tried to open a business in San Francisco can tell you, the costs and red tape are outstanding. One small Valencia St. retail outlet (no food or drink) that I know of spent $60,000 just to open the door and dealt with countless setbacks (ADA compliance, fire etc). Serving food and drink makes it even more costly. Yet Blue Bottle has only sunk $25,000 into their venture and La Cocina has reportedly spent $30,000. To be granted a retail space with access 1.2 million patrons a year for such a staggeringly low start-up cost and, worst, only $1,000/month in rent is what is so disgusting. As Blue Bottle's James Freeman told 7x7 Magazine, “It was less expensive than building out a cafe.”
And this is the problem with the deal. Rather than fill up one of the dozen storefronts on Valencia or Mission with a business, we have incentivized businesses to plant 12-foot trucks in the middle of a park that is already pressed for space. Even if Blue Bottle or La Cocina had to get a Dolores location, the storefront on the corner of 18th and Dolores next to Bi-Rite Cremery is up for rent. Rec & Park should have recognized that if they were going to whore out one of our national treasures, they should have at least demanded more money per month than what I pay in rent.
Given all this, I recognize booting the trucks out of Dolores Park is an unwinnable war. The contracts are in place, the permits have been drawn up and the trucks have been built. Short of Chicken John taking a liter of gas and a match to the trucks, they'll be in The Park later this fall. But kicking them out is not a war worth pursuing: it would be unfair to for these two groups, who are largely innocent in the whole ordeal, to eat the cost of the city's blunder. Instead, Rec & Park should realize this was a grave mistake and when the permits are up in two years, not renew them and have Rec & Park head Phil Ginsburg assure us that this will never happen again.