Oakland, CA: Food Trucks Booted From Art Murmur

Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel

By Jesse Hirsch | EastBayExpress.com

Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel

Tuesday night, Oakland City Council votes on a temporary resolution to allow food pod events while a more comprehensive mobile-food policy is being established. A police crackdown at Friday’s Art Murmur underscores the city’s need for a sensible plan: All the mobile-food vendors who typically operate at the event were issued tickets and forced to leave.

I showed up later in the evening, hoping to grab a sandwich from the Hil’s Cooking sandwich trailer (I’ve heard it offers a mean Philly cheese steak with lamb and grilled cactus). The trailer was nowhere in sight, nor were any of the usual suspects. The only street food I saw was the ubiquitous hot dog guy, who seemed to be doing a very brisk business. I was disappointed, but didn’t think much of it until later.

Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel and elder statesman of the East Bay mobile-food scene, issued a statement on her Facebook page Monday. She said the Oakland Police Department had shut down all of the event’s mobile food vendors and that they would have to appear in court and pay a fine.

By the letter of Oakland’s mobile-food policy (which is virtually nonexistent at this point), none of these vendors were permitted to sell food at the event. However, they had operated for many months under a sort of tacit acceptance policy, presumably because of the Art Murmur’s community-minded, free-spirited nature.

The police action couldn’t have been more perfectly timed to underscore the need for reform. The Art Murmur is an outdoor, upbeat affair, bringing together Oakland residents from all walks of life. Mobile-food vendors are an obvious complement to this kind of event, like food booths at a county fair or street festival. How better to convince city council that change is necessary than arbitrarily blocking food vendors from an event where they absolutely belong?

All eyes are now on Tuesday night’s vote on the interim policy. Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Jane Brunner (drafters of the resolution) even staged a little PR circus in advance of the vote, inviting three food trucks to take over Frank Ogawa Plaza on Tuesday afternoon. I’m guessing the police won’t be kicking these occupiers out.