The company plans to bring up to a dozen food trucks to the Caltrain parking lot on Wednesday nights for the next year, with a debut date dependent on whether residents appeal the event's approval by the Jan. 29 deadline, according to Off the Grid representatives.
Menlo Park's Planning Commission approved the proposal shortly after midnight on Jan. 14, over protests of nervous downtown business owners and some local residents.
In a compromise that acknowledged some fears about problems the new venture could cause, the planning commissioners asked to have the issue re-examined in a public hearing in six months.
Off the Grid is a San Francisco-based company that began organizing gatherings of food trucks in June 2010. It now hosts such events in many Bay Area locations, including the Belmont and Burlingame Caltrain stations.
The Wednesday event would use the corner of the train station parking lot near the intersection of Merrill Street and Ravenswood Avenue and close to the West Bay Model Railroad building.
Food would be served from 5 to 9 p.m. most of the year and 5 to 8 p.m. in the winter. Live amplified music would be offered from 6 to 8 p.m., with folding chairs, and lighting provided. A portable toilet would be brought in each week.
Off the Grid must clean up the area by 10 p.m. after each event and dispose of all garbage off site. Signs will ban parking from the portion of the train station lot that will be used from 3:30 to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays.
In the end, all the commissioners supported the proposal, but differed on the term of the use permit. Commissioners Henry Riggs and Katherine Strehl voted for a six-month limit; but the remaining commissioners — Vincent Bressler, John Kadvany, Ben Eiref, John Onken and Katie Ferrick — approved the one-year term.
Twenty speakers signed up to comment on the issue at the Planning Commission meeting, although a few left as the meeting dragged on into the night.
Bez Zahedi, owner of Una Mas restaurant on Santa Cruz Avenue, said he was worried that the customers of Off the Grid would take the parking his customers need. "This is stealing from us," he said.
Off the Grid reported that its surveys showed plenty of parking available at the train station. Caltrain charges $5 for parking; some commissioners worried that the fee would discourage food truck customers from using the lot.
Ali Elsafy, who owns Bistro Vida on Santa Cruz, said he is "very concerned" about the plan. "We're just now emerging from a difficult recession," he said. "We're still not out of the woods."
But the commissioners appeared to agree with residents such as Emily Finch, an architect who lives near the train station on Noel Drive. "I think it would bring a lot of much-needed night life and vibrancy to Menlo Park that's missing right now," she said.
A city staff report by Senior Planner Thomas Rogers addresses the issue of competition with local restaurants by saying: "... staff believes the proposed food truck market is not directly analogous to a 'brick-and-mortar' restaurant, as it would be located completely outdoors, offer only informal seating (no tables), and operate for a maximum of four hours per week."