The Burlingame City Council wants Off the Grid food truck events to remain after local businesses requested it be shifted to Broadway so customers aren’t taken away from the main commercial strip.
The council last night directed staff in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jerry Deal voting no, to prepare a letter for the mayor’s signature requesting Caltrain to extend the agreement with Off the Grid for use of the Broadway Caltrain parking lot located adjacent to the Broadway train station at California Drive and Carmelita Avenue, but shifting it to Tuesday night and asking for yearly city review of the company.
Off the Grid features street food vendors and began operating in the parking lot at the Broadway Caltrain station 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday nights this fall. While its final event this season was Dec. 5, it has caused concern from some local business owners who believe the trucks are pulling customers away from brick-and-mortar businesses down the street.
Recently, the Broadway Business Improvement District proposed to move Off the Grid to Broadway between Chula Vista and Capuchino avenues on Tuesday nights for a 90-day trial after businesses objected. Matt Cohen, owner of Off the Grid, presented a petition to keep the business in Burlingame. The company’s preference is to stay at its current location.
The traffic, if Broadway were closed for Off the Grid, could be a potential nightmare, police said.
“It really is like synchronized swimming when you’re shutting down an area like that,” said Burlingame police Sgt. Don Shepley. “We would need to get signage and traffic direction. If we look at what it takes to shut [Broadway] down, it would be six officers at six and a half hours and it comes out to $4,700 per event. If the police department were to absorb it, it would be a little less.”
On the other hand, the Broadway Business Improvement District wrote a letter to the council requesting an environmental impact report of having Off the Grid at the Broadway Caltrain station. It states the business district has noise, litter, sanitation and poor food safety concerns that the staff report prepared by Community Development Director Bill Meeker didn’t include.
“There has been considerable political shilly-shallying about the matter with one government entity stating one thing, Caltrain, and another, the city of Burlingame, another,” the letter states. “In the meantime, the city of Burlingame is putting at risk the very backbone of its community that functions hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year in and year out.”
Meeker said this land is unclassified, meaning it is not zoned for any particular type of use, since it is owned by a government entity, Caltrain, and isn’t subject to an EIR.
Vice Mayor Nagel suggested it would be good to talk with the Broadway businesses on how to bring in more customers. Closing down Broadway would cause too many congestion issues, safety issues and high costs.
“One big eye opener for me is that Off the Grid isn’t a casual business,” Nagel said. “This is not the case of a casual business that’s trying to move in. The bigger problem I’ve seen from this is the merchants on Broadway are not prepared to deal with the sophistication of this business.”
Councilman Jerry Deal, who voted against the letter, said the Broadway idea seemed like a great idea, but has since realized it’s not feasible. He said he can’t support it being on Broadway or at the Caltrain station.
“I’m going to stick up for the merchants themselves,” he said. “I’ve got a 35-year history of knowing the merchants on Broadway. A lot of these merchants are holding on by a tiny bit. It’s sure not a viable business model that helps Broadway in any shape or form.”
Meanwhile, Councilman Ricardo Ortiz said he would support some way to bring synergy between Broadway merchants and Off the Grid.
The public came to speak out about the matter. Two fourth-graders in the neighborhood spoke in support of keeping Off the Grid in Burlingame.
Derek Daniels, a senior at Burlingame High School, said if the city closes Broadway for a market it’s going to conceivably have a backup of cars.
“Off the Grid has become a huge part of culture in this area,” Daniels said. “It’s one of the only places in the community where you can find pulled pork sandwich, spring rolls and creme brulee all within 20 meters of each other.”
Other discussed the sense of community the market brings and that they don’t believe Off the Grid competes with the businesses on Broadway. Resident Ray Marshall said the residents want it to stay in town and the Broadway business district is being a little petty.
Off the Grid currently pays $750 a month between Caltrain and the California Public Utilities Commission for the space, said Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann. Off the Grid works to develop markets that are both located in urban cores of cities and use spaces that are not easily activated effectively throughout the day. This fits with the Broadway Caltrain location since the train doesn’t stop there during weekdays. The agreement with Caltrain extends into December and the contract is on hold while issues worked out with the merchants, Ackemann said.
In other city business, the council approved changes to the historic preservation covenant as it was previously accepted for the Post Office property located at 220 Park Road. The first states the California Office of Historic Preservation will not be a covenant holder and asked it be removed from administration of the covenant. Second, the office has asked the good cause clause be removed from the covenant. As originally drafted, this clause would have permitted the covenant holders to modify or cancel the restrictive provisions of the covenant for good cause and following notice to the public.
Additionally, the council voted to send a letter to the California Department of Transportation stating the city wants it to adopt the most cost-effective option with incremental changes to the intersection on Floribunda Avenue and El Camino Real. The letter states that, “in the strongest terms, the city objects to adding the turn signal lane on historic, cultural and aesthetic grounds ... any improvements should be made with the least possible impact to the environment.” The project is a controversial safety project that could remove heritage eucalyptus trees if a left turn signal lane is installed.
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