Soon, visitors to the Menlo Park Library and Civic Center sports fields may not have to leave the Civic Center to get food on Wednesday nights.
Off the Grid, Menlo Park's weekly food truck gathering, plans to move its Wednesday event from the Caltrain station parking lot to the city's parking lot between the library and the Arrillaga Family Gymnasium in the Civic Center.
The event will run Wednesday evenings from 5 to 9 p.m., with setup beginning at 3 p.m. and cleanup ending at 10:30 p.m.
The move was approved Sept. 12 on a 4-2 vote by the Menlo Park Planning Commission, with commissioners Katherine Strehl and Drew Combs opposed and John Onken absent.
The only step remaining is the completion of a lease agreement, slated to come to the City Council on Oct. 11, according to Jim Cogan, economic development and housing manager.
Caltrain is terminating its lease with Off the Grid after two years, according to Thomas Rogers, the city's senior planner. Caltrain was recently reminded that, according to a covenant Caltrain agreed to, activities and gatherings around the site's historic train station building should be limited.
Other sites were evaluated, but not found feasible, said Ben Himlan, Off the Grid's director of business development.
During the Planning Commission meeting, commissioners and speakers from the floor expressed worries that there might not be sufficient parking during sporting events at the Civic Center, and that Off the Grid visitors might "deluge" the restrooms at the gym and library, in the words of frequent Menlo Park Library visitor Aldora Lee.
She also raised concerns about the noise the event could create. "I can't imagine the roar and hum of this kind of commercial project in the middle of the parking lot where people are coming to appreciate the library," she said.
Commissioner Combs, who opposed the motion, objected largely on the fact that it would take up city parking spaces. "I can't support this," he said. "Those parking spots by the gym and the library are benefits the public has already paid for, and are paying for on an ongoing basis."
Mr. Rogers, the senior planner, said that the Civic Center has a number of parking lots, and that limited parking on occasion could simply be "something people living in a city of this size should expect to deal with."
Mr. Cogan said that some people use the library parking lot as free all-day parking instead of paying for parking at the Caltrain lot. If the city were to more thoroughly enforce parking restrictions at the library, parking availability would likely increase, he said.
Commissioners Henry Riggs and Andrew Barnes insisted that there be signage and dedicated staff to direct visitors to available parking when the move takes place, and for up to two months following.
Mr. Himlan of Off the Grid noted that two and a half years ago, he stood before the commission asking for approval of the weekly food truck event, and the hearing had gone until midnight due to public opposition. Six months later, the opposition had virtually dissolved, he said.
Now, as then, he said, "perhaps these concerns may not even be issues. … I'm not trying to dismiss your 'what ifs.' What we'd like to do is give it a try."