An attorney's letter citing several City of Palo Alto ordinances has shut down the popular food-truck event Edgewood Eats.
The Monday-evening food truck gatherings that brought life to Edgewood Plaza will not continue at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, its hoped-for new home after redevelopment caused it to vacate Edgewood Plaza last year.
The letter from Miles Dolinger, an attorney for residents who live adjacent to the church, argued that Edgewood Eats cannot take place in a residential R-1-zoned neighborhood.
The ongoing events would likely have significant land-use and environmental impacts, including increased traffic and related public-safety issues, noise from trucks and generators, garbage, air pollution from exhaust, generators and cooking and other potential health risks, he wrote.
The residents also objected to the city's issuance of a special-use permit, since the event is not an accessory use to the church and is not associated with church use, as is required under city ordinance, he wrote. As a recurrent, large-scale event, any special-use permit is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Dolinger noted.
Property rights and home values could also be adversely impacted by the nonconforming, regular use, and residents have a right to public notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to city approval, he wrote.
Edgewood Eats began in September 2010, as a way to build community and to breathe life into the defunct Edgewood Shopping Center. The site was slated for redevelopment but was mired in controversy and lawsuits over its historic Eichler buildings.
The food trucks proved popular, attracting hundreds of Crescent Park and Duveneck/St. Francis residents. About eight mobile gourmet-food vendors sold dinner in the parking lot in front of the former Albertsons store. A portion of the proceeds was donated to charity in lieu of an event fee, organizer Susie Hwang said in a Facebook post.
But the resurrection of Edgewood Plaza in September 2012, meant the demise of Edgewood Eats at that site. Hwang received provisional approval from the City of Palo Alto to host a pilot event for Edgewood Eats on March 18, at the First Congregational Church in the church parking lot at 1985 Louis Road.
Monica Wong, coordinator for Edgewood Eats who is also part owner of a Vietnamese food truck, Little Green Cyclo, estimated that 500 people attended.
That number of people is part of what alarms her, the resident who brought in the attorney said, speaking on condition of anonymity on Monday.
In its letter to residents, Edgewood Eats said it could be active from about 3 p.m. until 9 p.m., including set up and break down. Up to 12 trucks could set up, and the resident said that each truck brings generators that roar and spew fumes. Traffic also creates a hazard for kids during event hours, she added.
The resident said she doesn't object to Edgewood Eats per se. Her husband even attended the event when it was at Edgewood Plaza.
"It's a wonderful community event that has no business in a residential area. ... This is a business venture. If 95 percent of the money was going toward charity, it would still be worrisome, but I'd feel better about it," she said.
Although Edgewood Eats provides about 5 percent of its money to charity, people should know it is a commercial venture, she said.
Sixteen neighbors signed a petition against Edgewood Eats, she said.
"We suggest that this kind of food cart venture, although it may be a nice gathering event for a community, belongs at a city park, school playground, or shopping area zoned for commercial use," the petitioners wrote to the church.
The resident asked that supporters not judge her and others opposing Edgewood Eats.
"Before you criticize us, think about whether you want a block party in your back yard every week, because that's what it is," she said.
Other residents agreed. Some people who live nearby signed a petition against continuing Edgewood Eats at the church. A Louis Road resident who lives across the street said the March 18 event was well organized and clean, but she still is against having weekly events across from her home.
"I honestly have to say that I'm not for it. They start in the afternoon grilling and cooking. It's not ideal for the people who live here," she said.
Rev. Daniel Ross-Jones, associate minister at First Congregational Church, said Edgewood Eats organizers approached the church last March looking for space, and the church agreed after some correspondence.
Church volunteers canvassed the surrounding neighborhood and received only two negative comments from neighbors, neither of whom reside on Louis Road, he said. Other residents on Louis who would be most impacted loved the idea, he added.
On Easter Sunday, Hwang wrote on Edgewood Eats' Facebook page that the group is disappointed. "We are on hold indefinitely, folks," she said.
By Monday morning Edgewood Eats had 9,937 "likes" on Facebook, and 30 people commented on its demise. Some suggested mounting a campaign to save the event.
Supporters suggested alternate locations: the Palo Alto Square parking lot on El Camino Real; the Unitarian Church on Charleston Road; the parking lot behind Fry's Electronics; near the California Avenue train station; and business parks near Ming's on Embarcadero Road.
"Yes, it may be a little bit of a disturbance and inconvenience ... But the bigger picture is the sense of community, family bonding, and social support that Edgewood Eats provides!," wrote Michele Lin.
"Oh, no! I live across the street from the church and I was VERY happy to see you there. Where do I register my protest to the protestors? Seriously, who do I need to complain to?" wrote Kim Shetter.
Hwang said on Tuesday that many people they canvassed in the neighborhood approved of the event at the church. Despite the setback, she isn't giving up.
"We are still looking for a home, ideally a lot that is privately-owned and commercially-zoned but that neighborhood families can reach by foot or bike. It will be tough to recreate the perfect site we had at Edgewood Plaza, but we haven't given up hope," she said by email.
Aaron Aknin, city assistant director of planning and community environment, said Edgewood Eats was allowed to operate on March 18, as a special event. City code does not allow the conditional-use permit for an ongoing commercial activity in a residential neighborhood, he added.
Aknin said that option was presented by the city to event organizers.
"We suggested that it could be a special event in a rotating location. ... It would operate as a truly special event in different neighborhoods," he said.