Portland Parks & Recreation said it may not renew a food cart owner’s contract in Washington Park because of infrastructure costs and potential fees associated with Multnomah County’s new law on food cart pods.  

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance in October to standardize health and safety requirements for all food cart pods. It defines a “pod” as more than one food cart grouped on public or private property.

The ordinance shifts responsibility from individual food cart owners to the property owners of the food cart pod sites to ensure things like cleanliness, clean water and electricity.

Richard Yep has run his food cart, Donut Days, with his children in Washington Park for the past two years — through the Rose Garden’s busy season from March to October.

He was told last week by Portland Parks & Recreation, the entity that owns the park, that he could not renew his cart’s reservation for 2020.    

“I basically lost my spot at the Rose Garden to sell mini-donuts because of the new cart law that was intended probably to protect the public at places like Southwest 3rd and Southwest 5th, where they’re packed in like sardines,” Yep said. “But up at the Rose Garden, there are only two carts.”

Yep said the other cart, which sells hot dogs, has been in Washington Park for about 20 years.

“PP&R has decided that it is in our best interest to only allow one vendor at our Washington Park location,” a letter from Portland Parks & Recreation to Yep reads. “The requirements of maintaining a ‘pod’ on Park property are not within our reach or budget at this time.”

The letter continues: “Until […] there is a change or with practical application of the new Pod policy [that] results [in] the ability to add more vendors at a location without substantial cost, we will only have one at this location.”  

Portland Parks & Recreation spokesman Mark Ross said the letter was potentially confusing, and that his agency has not fully determined yet if Yep’s cart will stay or go. Ross said the agency is continuing its discussions about potential infrastructure upgrade costs, in addition to costs from the county’s ordinance. 

The county ordinance, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, requires property owners to obtain a permit to operate a food cart pod. For the two carts in Washington Park — including Yep’s, PP&R would need to pay the county $405 annually, according to the ordinance.

It would also pay a one-time $580 “plan review” fee.

“A lot of the requirements are basically just having a plan — having a plan for having a wastewater spill and how you’re going to clean it up, having a plan for your pest control, having a plan of how you’re going to make sure you’re going to have your solid waste contained,” Jeff Martin, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department, said. Martin helped create the ordinance.  

“A lot of what we’re proposing is basically planning and preparation that we’re hoping will be very simple for a pod owner to incorporate,” he said.

The cost of the annual fee rises depending on the number of carts in a pod. The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners is voting on whether to finalize those permit fees at its Thursday meeting.

“I pay $1,100 a month to be there,” Yep said. “Can’t Portland Parks & Recreation spend $500 to accommodate one guy in the Rose Garden so that there will be two carts?”

Ross, the PP&R spokesperson, said the agency plans to continue having conversations with Yep and sent its original letter in an effort to give ample notice. 

According to the county, Washington Park’s two food carts may not even qualify as a “pod.”

Though the ordinance defines a pod as “greater than one mobile food cart on private or public property,” Martin said there are other considerations such as the “proximity and connectivity of the carts to create a food service environment.”

He said when the rules for the ordinance are finalized in the next few weeks, the county will begin the process of determining whether or not properties qualify as pods. 

If Washington Parks’ food carts are technically a pod, PP&R could still apply for a waiver from the county to receive exemption from the ordinance’s rules and fees.

Martin said that he and the ordinance’s workgroup had considered the possibility that pod owners might react to the new ordinance by cutting the number of food carts.  

“That was always on the forefront of how this would negatively impact cart owners,” he said. “We knew we would probably get some sort of feedback stating that this would cause [pod owners] to reduce the amount of carts on their property.”

Portland Parks & Recreation’s letter to Yep also stated that the agency is determining “the impacts to our South Park Blocks locations as well,” in regard to the food carts that reside there.

“Portland Parks & Recreation is awaiting the final results of Multnomah County’s rule-making and how it might affect PP&R food cart sites,” Ross with PP&R said. 

“PP&R’s decision will not be determined on the amount of the county’s fee, but rather the physical limitations of park sites and Multnomah County’s rules,” Ross said. “It is possible based on the outcome, that PP&R could have two food carts at [Washington Park], but our past experience is that it has been operationally difficult to operate two food carts in this location.”

Yep, who also operates at local farmer’s markets and other events, said he’s not sure what he’ll do next.  

“I’m really lost where to go, and I just have to sit down with my kids and figure out where else to go,” he said. “I have to rethink this, because I was planning on restarting in the Rose Garden in March.

“In helping the bigger pods clean up, it [the ordinance] killed people like me and took away my livelihood.”