Guest opinion: No threat from food trucks
A letter last week echoed an email broadcast by Nancy Couperus and the Downtown Alliance saying that the "City Council is bringing food trucks to downtown Menlo Park." What's this about?
At a Planning Commission meeting last July, I used a picture of a single food truck in a slide presentation addressing issues raised about the draft Specific Plan. The issues included traffic circulation in the parking plazas and options for the proposed Chestnut Street "paseo" pedestrian area. What I presented was consistent with the draft Plan, but not spelled out there.
A food truck (not "trucks") is one of several food or drink options needed to help the paseo area function well as public pedestrian and seating space. A food truck would likely only be relevant during a pilot project to see how the paseo works, and not a permanent choice. A longer-term option might be something like the small kiosk shown in the slides, or the Stanford library coffee building shown, or movable carts.
To answer the Almanac letter questioning food truck "need": Yes, a public pedestrian and seating space, to function well, typically is helped by easy access to modest food and drink. It's simply less convenient to search for a shop some distance away, wait in line, and then return to sit down carrying a drink or snack. A cart, kiosk, small building, or food truck are all possibilities to make that work. The food truck option is, again, probably only relevant as a temporary measure, and even then, perhaps not the best.
Whatever the choice, the Planning Commission recommended, and the City Council voted in agreement, that Menlo Park businesses would have priority for any new vendor opportunity, however modest. The food truck in the slides is itself a Menlo Park business, "Butterscotch on the Go." Concerns that a paseo vendor will severely impact existing food businesses are overblown. Such views also lack any perspective on public spaces as a civic amenity with the potential to increase downtown foot traffic, shopping pleasure, and business profitability.
That is what's behind the misleading message, "City Council is bringing food trucks to downtown Menlo Park."
John Kadvany is a member of the Menlo Park Planning Commission.