McDonald’s Solicited by City Hall for Dolores Park San Francisco

By Kevin Montgomery
Uptown Almanac

A slew of information obtained through the Sunshine Ordinance revealed that the SF Department of Recreation and Parks both neglected local businesses and put little thought into the commercialization of city parks.

As you may recall earlier this fall, many area local businesses, neighborhood “activists”, and Dolores Park neighbors were upset over “chain” businesses moving into Dolores.  The controversy stemmed from what they claimed was a lack of outreach done by Rec. & Parks on the program and quickly ballooned into a debate about what our parks should be used for.  Eventually groups circulated a petition claiming McDonald’s would be next to move into Dolores (which I initially dismissed as hyperbole), threats were made against businesses planning on opening in park, and one of the two businesses canceled their plans to open.

Following the controversy, Rec. and Park director Phil Ginsburg wrote about the merits of food carts operating in SF Parks in the Chronicle, citing the popularity of “Creme Brulée Man, Sexy Soup Lady, Adobo Hobo, Soul Cocina and Mobile Pho” as well as the thriving scene in NYC’s Central Park, where people can purchase “inexpensive and popular fare ranging from soup and sandwiches to Turkish tacos.”

In a city as diverse and dense as San Francisco, the Recreation and Park Department is devoted to maintaining and improving what open space we have. Bringing a carefully chosen cadre of food carts into our parks is a natural extension of that. Food provides a reason for gathering. Gatherings are where people interact and community is formed. Parks provide a natural space to gather. Uniting food and parks creates an active, dynamic space for San Franciscans to enjoy.

While his words would lead you to believe the Department was truly interested in assisting aspiring businesses, the preponderance of companies invited to bid were non-local businesses.  Among the notified companies were Auntie Annes Pretzels, Ben & Jerry’s, Burger King, Double Rainbow, Fuddruckers, Ghirardelli, Haagen Dazs, Jamba Juice, Nestle Café, Orange Julius, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Pizza Hut, Subway, TCBY, The Cheescake Factory, Walt Disney, Wendy’s, and World Wrapps.

Local businesses were almost completely ignored.  In fact, of the 910 companies contacted, only a few dozen local San Francisco companies were listed, including Boulevard (Downtown), Buena Vista Cafe (Marina), Burger Joint (Mission), Cable Car Coffee Company (Powell), Castro Cheesery (Castro), City Hall Cafe (Civic Center), Deli-Up Cafe (Mission), Graffeo Coffee (North Beach), Imperial Tea Court (multiple locations), It’s-It Ice Cream, La Cocina (Mission), Zuni Cafe (Civic Center).  Even more troubling, no local food carts already operating in or around Dolores Park were told about the opportunity.

Program Lacked Proper Planning

Ginsburg’s op-ed suggested that the Department had debated the merits of commercializing open spaces.  However, the requests for program plans revealed no such thought was put into the decision to privatize parks.  The request directly made to Recreation and Parks:

A copy of the business plan, strategic plan, work plan or any internal strategy documents surrounding this initiative/program. Documents that answer: How it was conceived? What are the pros/cons? What are the risks and mitigation of those risks? What were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this idea? What are the financial projects? What are the liability issues? What is the environmental impact? What kind of outreach is necessary? What are the legal implications? Etc.

The Department was unable to provide any documents for this request, which implies no strategy was put into the program and was initiated on a whim.

Future Commercialization

Under the program that is commercializing Dolores Park, many other neighborhood parks are going to be litered with food trucks.  Duboce Park is going to have a juice truck (company unknown), Marina Green will have Twirl and Dip Soft Serve and Annakoot Indian Food, the Band Shell in Golden Gate Park will have Blue Bottle Coffee, Little Guys Sliders, Sam’s Chowder-Mobile, and Waffle-Mania, and Civic Center will have Leba (a falafel truck) and Blue Bottle Coffee.

Nick Kinsey, the Assistant Director of Property and Concession Management for the Department of Recreation and Parks, also says that the Department is still accepting proposals for Dolores Park, but “I am not sure that we would consider anything additional at Dolores at this point.”

More Info

Initial Request for Proposals Letter [PDF]

List of Businesses Contacted [HTML]

Previously on Uptown Almanac

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