Questions for Multnomah County Q & A?

Food Carts Portland

I’m doing an interview with Multnomah County later this week and would love to know what questions you all might have for them. I’ll then post the answers to your questions later next week. Just leave your questions in the comments below…

Multnomah County is one of the lead agencies in charge of approving, permitting and inspecting food carts in Portland and other jurisdictions inside Multnomah County. They are the “go to” place for permits, and the last stop on the approval process when a new cart is ready to open. They coordinate with the City of Portland and the Fire Bureau to assure carts are safe and meet all applicable laws and guidelines and work on policy and planning issues around the carts. Finally, Multnomah County are the ones that do ongoing health inspections for cleanliness and food safety. To say Multnomah County is huge part of the food cart scene in Portland is an understatement.  Portland’s food carts wouldn’t exist without them.

  • So what does Multnomah County think of all the new food carts popping up all over the city?
  • What kind of issues are emerging with all these new carts?
  • Are there more regulations and permitting on the way?
  • How does someone apply for a food cart permit?
  • What are some of the biggest issues our city and county faces with food carts?
  • Why does Multnomah County do what they do with food carts?
  • And what about all those to-go containers, trash and other waste issues, isn’t there something they County can do?

These are just a few of the questions we’ll be asking Multnomah County later this week. Got questions of your own? Please leave them in the comments below.

Thanks for participating!

SW 9th and Alder Carts at Risk?

Food Carts Portland

Will many of the carts on SW 9th and Alder have to move? Will these carts have to shut down completely?

The SW 9th and Alder Parking Lot, Home to Many of Portland's Popular Food Carts.

The SW 9th and Alder Parking Lot, Home to Many of Portland's Best Loved Food Carts

I’ve been hearing mumblings from the cart owners for a few weeks now and it could mean big changes for carts on that lot.

The issue concerns a recent cap on electricity use by the carts as mandated by the site’s property owner, Greg Goodman. As reported in the Oregonian yesterday, the recent large increase in the number of carts on the property means there isn’t enough juice to go around. The cap, now mandated by Goodman at 20 amps per cart, is a big problem for many cart owners who need a minimum of 20 amps or more just to maintain operations. For example, Andrea Spella, owner of the popular espresso cart Spella, needs 20 amps just to operate his espresso machine, not to mention electricity needed for his other equipment. Andrea told me earlier this week that this mandated electricity cap might put him out of business.

While Goodman indicates his company is working to increase electricity to the carts, he also stated that some carts may need to move and/or he may need to charge the carts more. This too is problematic for many of the carts since many are stating they are already paying for more electricity as part of their agreement with Goodman. Brown Bag Bunny has already stated that as of next week they are moving to SE 12th and Hawthorne due to this issue. Who will be the next to leave?

I applaud Goodman for allowing the carts which add to an active and culturally rich street life on that block and make many many people happy and well fed on the cheap daily. The carts are certainly a much better amenity than just a big ugly parking lot filled with cars. However, I also hope Goodman and the cart owners can come to some sort of mutual agreement rather quickly. I would also suggest, if necessary, assistance from the City’s Bureau of Planning who have stated they support carts in Portland and are interested in issues like this one. They might be able to negotiate some sort of city permit discounts and other incentives that would allow increased electricity but still keep the model cost effective for everyone.

In addition, I’m just going to say it: why on earth would Goodman keep adding carts without looking into the electrical capacity of his property beforehand? In addition, why on earth does one parking lot need 4 Mexican carts and 3 Thai carts? Free market is good and I figure Goodman is bringing in at least $12K per month just from cart rent alone, but thoughtful planning and safety nets incorporated into free market is better.

If you care about this issue please feel free to discuss it with any of the cart owners at the SW 9th and Alder lot who can provide you with more information. In addition, you can contact Greg Goodman directly at 503-221-1666 to tell him your opinion.

City of Portland Releases Food Cart Study

Food Carts Portland

It’s Official – the City of Portland Food Cart Study has arrived.

Some things in the report are no brainers, there were a few surprises (people don’t really seem to care about the design of the carts for example) while other issues, such as neighborhood complaints and tensions over the carts remain unresolved.

I’ve been writing about this study for a while now, and finally two weeks ago the City of Portland posted the final version on their website.

Here’s a bit of background: The Portland Bureau of Planning teamed up with a group of urban planning master’s degree students to look at the state of food carts in Portland including the land use, economic, environmental and social impacts. This study was in response to a few issues including Portland’s rapidly expanding food cart scene, business and neighborhood complaints and issues against the carts, and questions on whether the City should focus some efforts in protecting the carts and/or if they are a good way to focus economic development resources towards potential future grants, loans and other funding. Despite the misguided reporting over at the Mercury, this study is not a policy document, nor was it meant to address specific complaints or issues over specific carts. The study will neither start a city sponsored food cart program nor increase regulations for the carts. It was simply meant as a baseline study to help the City better understand the growing trend of food carts in Portland and to potentially guide future decisions regarding the carts and better help address land use and neighborhood complaints in the future.

As paraphrased from the study itself, The study looked these basic questions:

  • Neighborhood Livability: What effects do food carts have on street vitality and neighborhood life? What are the positive and negative impacts of food carts on the community?
  • Community Economic Development: To what extent do food carts serve as an entry-point into long-term business ownership? Do carts provide beneficial economic opportunities for residents of Portland?

With the following findings:

  1. Food carts have positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower density residential neighborhoods as well as in the high density downtown area.
  2. When a cluster of carts is located on a private site, the heightened intensity of use can negatively impact the surrounding community, primarily from the lack of trash cans.
  3. A cart’s exterior appearance does not affect social interactions or the public’s overall opinion of the carts; seating availability is more important for promoting social interaction than the appearance of the cart’s exterior. development.
  4. The presence of food carts on a site does not appear to hinder its development.
  5. Food carts represent beneficial employment opportunities because they provide an improved quality of life and promote social interactions between owners and customers.
  6. Despite the beneficial opportunities that food carts can provide, there are numerous challenges to owning a food cart.
  7. While many food cart owners want to open a storefront business, there is a financial leap from a food cart operation to opening a storefront.
  8. Food cart owners do not frequently access small business development resources available to them, such as bank loans and other forms of assistance.

The study also provides the following recommendations:
1. Identify additional locations for food carts.
2. Increase awareness of informational resources for stakeholders in the food cart industry by connecting them with existing programs.
3. Promote innovative urban design elements that support food carts.

And that folks, is it for now. Whew, reading and recapping that study made me hungry. May a I suggest an ice-cold gelato or affogato from Spella Caffe?

Portland Food Carts Study