THIS SHOULD HAVE ended what's been a very histrionic debate. On Friday, March 16, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) for the first time approved a full-on liquor license for a food cart pod, blithely brushing aside Portland City Hall's concerns that doing so would dump out a Pandora's box filled with vomit, noise, and general disorder.
But that nice little burst of sanity aside, this contretemps won't be calming down any time soon. And the deservingly well-managed cart pod that's worked hard to earn its license—SE 82nd's Cartlandia—remains stuck in the middle.
Hours after Friday's vote, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, leading Portland's temperance crusade, told me she was huddling with the city attorney's office to "review options."
"I'm disappointed because I think it's irresponsible," Fritz said, noting that "two more applications" have been submitted since this fracas began.
And Mayor Sam Adams, backing Fritz in her fight with the OLCC, was venting on Twitter—repeating the same misleading concern that Cartlandia's license would magically lead to some 700 carts all across Portland suddenly slinging hooch with little regard for neighbors and the scarce resources of our cash-strapped police bureau.
"Bad news," he tweeted, "Liquor Control Commission in principle just approved adding up to 695 new" food cart liquor licenses in Portland.
Of course, what's really irresponsible is a comment like that.
Cartlandia had to prove itself just like any other license applicant, accepting a very specific set of restrictions: a large controlled lot, the ability to hire extra staff, limited serving hours, etc. And the law doesn't permit the OLCC to discriminate against carts just because "there aren't four walls and a roof around it," says Farshad Allahdadi, the OLCC's licensing services director.
Allahdadi went on to say that Fritz' and Adams' handwringing was a "stretch": "Even if every one of those cart owners chose to apply, we know, for a number of reasons—qualifications, business operations, what have you—that many would not be granted a license."
Even cart owners don't expect the floodgates to open.
"I don't think people are champing at the bit to sit in the rain and drink beer," says Gregg Abbott, owner of Whiffies Fried Pies, adding that the owners in his pod, Cartopia, at SE 12th and Hawthorne, "aren't all that interested."
So what's driving this? Maybe it's politics. Fritz, after all, is running for re-election and this has been a cheap way to get her face on TV. Allahdadi wouldn't touch that. But he wryly noted that city staffers were working with the OLCC long before Fritz got involved.
"As far as I know," he said diplomatically, "city hall's involvement has been a recent development."