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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Not Even Two Weeks In, City Hall's Food Cart Pod Is on Pause

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 4:06 PM

As the Mercury first reported today on Twitter—alerting some of our news partners—the nascent food cart pod Mayor Charlie Hales really wanted for City Hall's plaza has been put on hiatus as of this afternoon.

Fuego, the burrito handcart that set up last Monday in the plaza, was back in its familiar place outside the Portland Building at SW 4th and Madison. And the three metal tables and 12 metal chairs meant to entice Fuego and other carts to the plaza, at a cost of nearly $4,000, have been shunted away into storage.

Kelly Ball, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Finance, which runs the city's facilities department, confirmed the move this afternoon. Later today, Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, confirmed the same.

One issue is a drop in business. The other, though, is the fact that Fuego appeared in the plaza soon after Hales' had staffers clear out two religious vigils aimed at ending the city's camping ban. Haynes told me yesterday that Fuego's workers had been harassed in recent days by activists bitter about the switch—harassment, if true, is completely unfair for the cart's workers. Haynes was hoping that wouldn't lead to a move, he explained today.

But it did. Fuego's owner had put the city on notice yesterday. Tomas Karwowski emailed Wendy Gibson in facilities. Gibson has been running point on the city's food cart attraction efforts.

Wendy, we will be moving our cart back to our previous spot as soon as tomorrow.

Our sales are much lower, but what is more bothersome is a social and political dispute we find ourselves to be in the middle of.

During last week we have been approached by activist daily, yesterday Occupy Portland were giving away free burritos very next to our cart.

I am sorry that this did not work out, for it seemed, if only for a moment, the opportunity could have benefited us both.

As Karkowski mentioned, the move comes two days after activists led by Cameron Whitten, housing justice advocate (read his and the Reverend Chuck Currie's post on Blue Oregon) and former hunger striker, passed out free burritos in the plaza during lunchtime to call attention to Hales' plans. That event didn't draw any customers away from Fuego—and Whitten tells me today he made sure to hand over a $50 tip before his rally.

Ball told me the city still hopes to attract carts. But Haynes says, until it does, the new tables and chairs are going away. They were mostly there, he says, as an enticement for cart operators who needed a nudge to move. They could come back without a cart, he says, under certain conditions.

"If there's not carts, we'll put the tables and chairs away," Haynes says. "Unless we get a lot of city employees who say they want to take their sack lunches down there or want to hold their staff meetings outside and get some vitamin D."

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