The chair of the Portland Parks Commission resigned this week following a disagreement over the presence of food trucks on the Eastern Promenade that he said highlights commissioners’ differences about how city parks should be used.

Michael Mertaugh, who has served on the commission for eight years, submitted his resignation late Thursday in an email to fellow commissioners in which he cited a lack of support for a proposal that he favored to relocate food trucks from the prom to the midlevel parking lot on Cutter Street.

Michael Mertaugh, seen at his home on Friday, resigned as chair of the Portland Parks Commission Thursday after his proposal to relocate food trucks from the Eastern Prom failed to pass. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“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 esthetic dimensions of our parks,” Mertaugh wrote. “In view of this difference, I do not feel that I can continue to serve effectively as your chairman. I therefore resign as chairman and member of the Portland Parks Commission, effective immediately.”

The move comes as the city is trying to figure out how to manage trash, safety and environmental concerns related to food trucks, and as area residents have pushed back with a petition opposing the trucks on the prom. As of Friday, more than 230 people had signed an online petition saying they oppose food trucks on the prom roadway and urging the city to move the trucks to the Cutter Street parking lot.

Interim City Manager Danielle West is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks on the location of the food trucks, which under current rules are allowed to operate along the prom from Washington Avenue to Cutter Street. City spokesperson Jessica Grondin said Friday that West has yet to make a decision.

On Thursday, Parks Director Alex Marshall briefed the commission on the options currently under consideration, which include a seasonal food truck court between Congress and Turner Streets, moving the trucks down the street on the prom to an area between Turner and Quebec streets, or utilizing the Cutter Street parking lot to host the trucks.



Several people in the meeting’s public comment period urged the commission to consider the Cutter Street option, including Diane Davison, a resident who was among the organizers of the petition.

“When we asked folks if they would like to see the trucks relocated within the park to that paved parking lot … I only had three people decline to support our petition as written,” Davison said. She said organizers have gathered additional signatures on paper, for a total of 350 signatures in support of their effort.

The petition states that removing all food trucks from the Eastern Prom roadway and relocating them to Cutter Street would restore easy access to the Eastern Prom playground; eliminate conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles on the road; prevent the elimination of about 30 parking spots that would be lost under the plan for a food truck park between Congress and Turner; and eliminate generator noise and congestion on the prom.

“I just hope we can do this as a collaborative effort so the trucks and all the park users can exist in a safe and equitable way,” Davison said.

The commission was not required to vote on the location for the food trucks, but Mertaugh said Friday that they decided to do so because it is a significant issue.



“It is an important question about the use of what is really the crown jewel in the park system, and we felt we would like to offer input into the decision that will ultimately be made by the city manager,” Mertaugh said in an interview.

The city also has been gathering feedback on the food trucks issue from other groups, including the City Council’s housing and economic development, and sustainability and transportation committees. The sustainability committee voted 3-0 last month in support of the proposed seasonal food truck court between Turner and Congress streets.

On Thursday, Mertaugh proposed the commission recommend a pilot program relocating all food trucks to the midlevel parking lot on Cutter Street, limit the number of food trucks in the parking lot to seven, provide “minimally intrusive” electrical service for the permitted trucks and delay the installation of supporting facilities, including in-ground waste disposal units, until a review of the 2022 pilot experience was completed. The motion failed on a 4-4 vote.

Commissioner Zach Anchors, who voted against the motion, represents the Friends of the Eastern Promenade on the commission and said the nonprofit also took up the food truck issue recently and saw “pros and cons” to all the options.

“We’re just concerned that shifting everything to Cutter Street would shift the problem down there and create new problems potentially,” Anchors said.


He said the nonprofit supports a “hybrid” option that would allow the city to experiment with using both the prom and the Cutter Street parking lot to host the trucks. “This pilot year would be trying out some things and figuring out what works best,” Anchors said.


Mertaugh said the vote is indicative of what he sees as a philosophical divide on the commission about the future of the city’s parks. Some commissioners, including himself, he said, have placed more value on the parks as a refuge, with an emphasis on nature and pristine views. Others have put emphasis on parks as places for activity, such as events, concerts and food trucks.

He said more consideration should be given to the city’s master plans for the parks, and historic preservation should have been looked at more closely in considering how to manage the food trucks on the prom.

“(The parks) are a precious resource that needs to be protected in their natural state, and I think we need to resist cluttering our parks with additional things,” Mertaugh said. “Some of those things are appropriate and are appropriately placed, but I think there’s also a threat with new things being added.”

The Parks Commission is a group of community members interested in stewardship of city parks and appointed by the City Council. They meet monthly with the director of parks, recreation and facilities and the parks director to review projects and proposals, and also take citizen input and provide recommendations.


Marie Gray, who also is a member of the commission, said Friday that she was sad to see Mertaugh’s resignation. “I think we’ve lost a strong, long-term, committed voice for Portland’s parks,” Gray said. “It’s a sad moment.”

She believes the city could have handled the food truck issue differently – and she hopes that, after Thursday’s meeting, commissioners and city staff will pause and reflect on the options before them.

“We have to remember the Eastern Promenade is first and foremost a park,” Gray said. “It’s not a fairground, it’s a park. And clearly something had to be done to accommodate the food trucks that were out there. … I’m disappointed we as a commission couldn’t be more helpful in finding another location for the food trucks that would accommodate their needs, but we also need to keep in mind that it’s a park and we have to do everything we can to maintain the viability of the park.”


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