Courtesy photoAfter just unveiling its Menlo Park market a few weeks ago

Off the Grid and Burlingame merchants working on compromise to keep popular food truck event in town

A compromise between merchants and event organizer Off the Grid could keep the popular weekly food truck happenings in downtown Burlingame.

Under the deal, the events would move from Thursday evenings to Tuesdays and be held on Broadway instead of in the Caltrain parking lot.

The Broadway Business Improvement District made the proposal Thursday, and Off the Grid founder Matthew Cohen said he was open to the changes, adding that the company originally wanted to have the event on Broadway.

Off the Grid had previously said it will temporarily cancel the events in Burlingame, citing complaints from local business owners and uncertainty regarding city permits. Store and restaurant owners on Broadway have complained that the events have hurt sales and made parking difficult for customers.

Broadway Business Improvement District spokesman John Kevranian, who proposed the compromise, said members were blindsided when Off the Grid held its first Burlingame event Sept. 26. But Cohen said his company had spent a year working with the city and reaching out to local merchants prior to the launch.

Because the events took place on Caltrain property, Off the Grid did not need a permit from the city, said Vice Mayor Michael Brownrigg.

Off the Grid has been using the Caltrain parking lot on California Drive at Carmelita Avenue, 600 feet from the nearest Broadway business. However, opponents say that’s not far enough. AVR Realty owner Ross Bruce said several of Broadway’s mom-and-pop restaurant owners have reported sharp dips in their Thursday sales.

They’re not opposed to having food trucks in Burlingame, Bruce said, but they can’t afford the lost business and parking problems caused by the current arrangement. “Broadway merchants can see the poetry in Off the Grid, and we like it in concept, but in its current from, location and schedule, it’s interfering with our business district,” he said.

Kevranian disagreed with the notion that the city couldn’t regulate the events because they were held on Caltrain property. He noted that if somebody wanted to open a restaurant on the site, they would need a permit.

Off the Grid normally obtains special use permits from the cities in which it operates, Cohen said, and it was unusual for Burlingame to not issue a permit. He said Caltrain suggested a hiatus until the matter could be resolved, and he agreed that it was best to put the events on hold.

“It’s not Caltrain’s responsibility to arbitrate internal community matters,” said Cohen, “it’s the city’s responsibility. We’re going to ask them to issue us a permit.”

Off the Grid launched a campaign that includes post cards the organization is encouraging supporters to sign and mail to the City Council. It also includes a Change.org petition and a Facebook page. Cohen said the only purpose of the campaign is to encourage the city to find a location for Off the Grid that everybody can live with.

One Broadway business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said she felt demonized by the campaign. She said that when she saw the comments posted on the “Off the Grid: Burlingame” Facebook page, she felt betrayed. “It makes me sad to read all the hateful comments some of my own customers make,” she said.

Off the Grid’s last Burlingame event before the hiatus is scheduled for Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m.

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