A woman walks down the Eastern Promenade to a food truck in the Cutter Street parking lot last month. A pilot program moved the trucks from the top of the prom to the middle parking lot along Cutter Street. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Portland city staff are recommending that food trucks on the Eastern Promenade remain where they currently do business – in the middle parking lot off Cutter Street – but there may be changes to how the food truck program operates next year on the city’s East End.

The staff recommendations will be presented Tuesday at a joint meeting of the city’s Housing and Economic Development and the Sustainability & Transportation committees. The Zoom meeting begins at 5 p.m.

The city launched a pilot program this summer, moving the food trucks from the Eastern Promenade roadway to the parking lot in an effort to address concerns about congestion and litter. The pilot program could become permanent after city staff released their recommendations Monday based in part on the results of a public survey that gathered more than 1,800 responses and 280 pages of open-ended feedback.

Food truck operators have largely opposed the relocation – some have said sales went down by as much as 30% to 40% compared to last year – though just 18 responded to a targeted survey for vendors and only five answered each question.

Public comments split on the question of where the trucks should be located.

“I preferred the top of the hill,” one commenter said. “There was more shade, (it was) an easier walk from my apartment, more integrated with the park and the playground.”

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As for the Cutter Street parking lot, “the vibe is totally different and not as nice,” that commenter said.

But another said the relocation “was very positive.” That commenter said having trucks on the Eastern Prom was “chaotic and a big dangerous,” and moving the trucks made parking on the Prom easier and safer.

“I have found the new location to be a good compromise,” the commenter said. “Making the Prom safer and cleaner while still have access to the yummy food the trucks provide.”

The city’s suggestions for next year include reducing the number of dedicated spaces for food trucks from 14 to seven – filled on a first-come, first-served basis – and moving those spaces to the north side of the parking lot. Staff said the average number of food trucks present each day this past summer was 5.9, with a range of zero to 11, so there is rarely a need for more than seven spaces.

One food truck operator said he’s particularly concerned about the proposal to halve the number of spaces for food trucks.

“This is the worst idea I have heard yet,” said Dylan Gardner, co-owner of the Falafel Mafia food truck. Gardner said he set up his food truck often in the Cutter Street lot, usually six days a week.

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Garrett Champlin, who runs the Eighty 8 Donut Cafes food truck, agreed.

“They overreacted in moving us down,” he said, and the proposal to cut the number of spaces for trucks will just compound that.

Champlin said the move to the Cutter Street lot killed off morning business, but the trucks will end up arriving early each day anyway, competing for a limited number of spaces, if that proposal goes through.

Gardner and Champlin said the city should work with food truck owners to find solutions instead of coming up with a plan that will pit operators against each other.

“We do think that any industry needs regulations to some degree, but the city needs to work with the operators enough to figure out what will and won’t work for us,” Gardner said. “It does make it hard to do business sometimes.”

Both operators said they weren’t happy about moving from the Eastern Prom to the parking lot, which is down a steep slope toward the water and said it doesn’t attract the foot or vehicle traffic that the Eastern Promenade roadway does. Champlin said some customers seem to avoid the Cutter Street site because it either means walking down the hill that can be slick when the gas is wet, or a long walk around to where the street connects with the Eastern Prom.

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“We did not like having to move to the lower lot at all, it was a very hard move for our business,” Gardner said. “But we are happy to work with the city to make the most of the Cutter Street lot (and) we understood the city’s desire to move us as much as we firmly disagreed with it.”

The new proposal also suggests building a walkway and stairs from the Cleves Monument to the parking lot to improve access, but Champlin said it’s often a long time between when those types of ideas are approved and when it actually gets built.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” he said.

Other possible improvements include installing electricity to reduce the noise and emissions from generators; installing larger vault trash cans; considering additional food truck parking at the Amethyst Lot; and charging a $3,900 fee for Eastern Prom parking spaces on top of the annual food truck license fee.

Portland currently allows food trucks at many of the city’s larger parks, including Deering Oaks, Payson Park, Back Cove, Dougherty Field, Amethyst Lot, and the Western Prom.

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