PORTLAND OFFICIALS finally 'fessed up last week on why they waited until mid-February to freak out over the Cartlandia food cart pod's request to sell beer and wine—even though the fellow running the pod had applied for his liquor license last year ["Putting the Squeeze On," News, Feb 16].
The mea culpa is tucked inside a brand-new resolution from City Commissioner Amanda Fritz that basically threatens to sue the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) over the issue.
The position at the police bureau charged with helping vet applications was "vacant when the application was being processed." And that's why, the resolution continues, "no formal response was submitted to the OLCC."
Except that's not precisely true. The OLCC did receive a response. And now Portland officials—still flogging the impossibly remote notion that hundreds of food carts will start slinging hooch unless the OLCC backs down—are employing semantics to imply otherwise.
As the Mercury first reported, the file for Cartlandia's OLCC application includes a letter, dated July 21, 2011, bearing the name of the captain in charge of the police bureau's vice division: Ed Hamann. Two other words are equally clear: "Favorable Recommendation."
"We do have one," OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott said when I checked whether, using the city's parlance, Hamann's letter technically constitutes a "formal response." But, Scott added, "You'd have to talk to the city about why they feel that's not valid."
Which I did, ringing up Portland's liquor license czar, Theresa Marchetti. This is where semantics come into play.
Marchetti called back Monday, February 27, and explained that both are true. Yes, the city sent the OLCC an official letter. No, that wasn't a "formal response."
It went like this: Because of the staffing shortage, the city couldn't get its act together and agree on an official recommendation in the short window the OLCC allots for review. And, without a decision—either yes or no—the city's default letter is "always favorable," Marchetti says.
So, basically, the city is citing a technicality and demanding a do-over. And fast. The resolution was set for a council vote on Wednesday, February 29—driven by fear the OLCC could take up Cartlandia's application in mid-March.
Of course, the question is whether all this contortion is even worth it. Only a handful of carts will ever be able to afford the added security the OLCC is demanding. But that isn't swaying city officials. Siding with the restaurant lobby, they're fretting that, somehow, carts all across town will suddenly start disgorging drunks instead of happy customers.