Portland finds space for all interested food trucks in Cutter St. parking lot

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After telling several food trucks they would have to cease doing business on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, the city reversed its decision last week. It will allow all the operators who applied for permits to use a public parking lot on Cutter Street.

Interim City Manager Danielle West decided the trucks would have to leave the Eastern Promenade by June 15 after hearing complaints from property owners about noise, odors, and traffic created by the trucks. Initially, she decided just 10 trucks would be allowed to use Cutter Street, an area below the Eastern Promenade that is used to park boat trailers.

Food trucks protest at City Hall
Food truck owners and employees protest outside Portland City Hall June 2 after several trucks lost a lottery to operate on the Eastern Promenade this summer. The interim city manager later decided there is enough space for all the trucks that applied for permits. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

The city held a lottery for the 10 spots after receiving 14 applications (including one shared by two trucks) on June 1. One of the trucks not selected in the lottery was the popular Mr. Tuna, which has been using the Eastern Prom for nearly four years and operates there eight months of the year.

Owner Jordan Rubin said this would have been a “devastating blow” to his business, and a spokesperson estimated it would have cost Mr. Tuna $500,000 in revenue. Rubin also said he would have had to lay off employees from the truck and at the Portland Market House.

Rubin and the other truck owners who were left out staged a protest outside City Hall on Thursday, June 2, demanding the city overturn West’s decision and delay any changes for a year. Previously, an online petition attracted more than 4,200 signatures urging the city to make sure local trucks and trucks that had been using the prom for years weren’t eliminated.

But soon after the protest, the city announced that all 14 trucks will be allowed to participate in this year’s pilot program on Cutter Street, which runs June 15-Nov. 15. The city is not charging the trucks a license fee for the period and will evaluate the program after the season ends.

City Councilor Andrew Zarro was among those who encouraged West to reconsider. He said he didn’t see why Cutter Street couldn’t accommodate four additional trucks.

Zarro, who chairs the council Sustainability and Transportation Committee, where the food truck question was discussed, also said the Cutter Street location isn’t ideal from a sustainability perspective. He said the Eastern Promenade roadway has the capacity for electrical hookups, which would allow the trucks to eliminate the use of generators, while Cutter Street does not have that infrastructure.

Although the committee recommended the trucks be allowed to remain on the Eastern Promenade, West’s decision did not require City Council approval.

“Public parks are for the public,” Zarro said. “They are not just for residents abutting the park. They are meant to be used and meant to be taken care of, and that’s what we want to do.”