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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Organizers of the Nixed Folsom Street-Food Market Feel Burned By the Fire Department

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 4:26 PM

click to enlarge 4505 Meats' Ryan Farr, grilling at the Thursday Ferry Plaza market: Too dangerous for Folsom? - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • 4505 Meats' Ryan Farr, grilling at the Thursday Ferry Plaza market: Too dangerous for Folsom?
Need more proof that San Francisco is hostile territory for street food? Today comes more evidence, courtesy of the organizer of the aborted Friday Street-food market on Folsom (it was due to start tomorrow).

Doug Cefali, president of Malcolm Properties, developer of the Blū building (631 Folsom at Second St.) that was to host the market in its courtyard, called the whole experience "sickening." Yesterday, Cefali and Kelly Walsh, brand manager for Tacolicious, one of three would-be vendors, went to Fire Department HQ on Second Street to pull the fire permits. Turns out the city issued new rules last month regulating street-food tents. When it comes to rules for propane tanks, which the three vendors (Tacolicious, Namu, and 4505 Meats) planned to use for fueling portable grills and other cooking surfaces, the new administrative bulletin was open to a certain amount of interpretation. Organizers suspect that in this case, the interpretation was so strict it had the effect of killing the market.

While the rules call for a 10-foot buffer between the tanks and a building, they also call for adequate separation from the public. But, said Cefali, the number of feet wasn't specified. That's when the trouble started. "The inspector on duty said she interpreted that to mean 10 feet," Cefali said, "even though that figure isn't anywhere in the code." And Kelly Walsh said that, when she paid a visit to the Fire Department the week before, a different inspector told her that "adequate separation" could be as short as 5, maybe even 2 feet.

So why is that 10-foot figure problematic? Simply that the courtyard in front of the Blu building doesn't allow for those two 10-foot buffers, plus space for the vendor setups. Meaning, essentially, the market was dead. Tacolicious' Walsh said that, when she pointed out to inspector Melissa Lerma that another inspector had said the buffer could be smaller, she hit a brick wall. "He was there as well, the man I talked to the week before," Walsh said. "He sort of pulled the old, 'Oh well, maybe I'm not so familiar with the rules' thing." In addition, the inspector said there had to be a 20-foot buffer between the three vendors.

To add insult to injury, Inspector Lerma told Walsh and Cefali that fire permit fees had changed, too. Instead of the $200 total fee they were expecting for the six-week run of the market, the cost had bumped up to $330 - for each of the three vendors, each week. (If one vendor took responsibility for the others, it'd cost an additional $90 each.) If the space regulations weren't enough to kill the market, fees the vendors considered onerous certainly were. "That would have been the last straw for us," Walsh said.

What's the next step? For his part, Cefali said he hired a fire consultant to look into the municipal codes - he reported back that the 10-foot buffer from propane tanks to customers simply doesn't exist. Walsh spoke with the owners of Namu and 4505 Meats this afternoon; she said they were weighing whether they could sell from carts - rather than the cooking setups they have at the Thursday ferry Plaza market -- though it seemed unlikely. "We all sort of sat around and tried to come up with different avenues," Walsh said. "Carts are an option, but that changes the idea of what we do. We're not street-food vendors, we're not hot dog carts. We wouldn't have the quality that we have at the Ferry Building."

And why, you might be asking, haven't these regulations nixed the Thursday Ferry Plaza market? Simple - the Port's fire department has jurisdiction there, and wields different regulations.

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