The Roseburg City Council met for more than 3½ hours Monday night to discuss a number of matters, including whether to vacate a small portion of land, who should fill a vacancy on the council and whether to sell a vacant property the city owns.
The council took about two minutes to listen to Lan Ha, owner of the Wailani shave ice food truck, describe why she feels she was wronged by city officials who granted her permission to set up shop at Stewart Park on weekends throughout the summer, only to reverse course and tell her to leave the park at the end of May.
Ha said she took city officials at their word when they told her she could sell her shave ice at the park all summer. She also said she didn’t want to get into a fight, but rather wanted to partner with the city and make the park a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
Mayor Larry Rich said items not on the official city agenda are typically not discussed at council meetings. He also said the fact Ha has hired an attorney to represent her further limits the city council’s willingness to discuss her concerns.
None of the councilors spoke on the matter. But considering the popularity of her shave ice — she was selling almost 500 dishes a day at Stewart Park during her four weekends there — and the groundswell of support she appears to have garnered, including more than 2,000 signatures on a petition asking that she be allowed to return to the park, it seems unlikely the dispute is going to die out anytime soon.
“Our intention was for people to get a shave ice and take a walk and enjoy a visit to their local park. We believed that we were an asset to the park and received multiple comments about our shave ice truck being a perfect addition to the park,” Ha said prior to Monday’s meeting.
Ha said the parks department approved the permit allowing the truck to operate, but required her to have several million dollars more in insurance coverage than would typically be required of a food truck. Ha purchased the extra insurance and was given the electrical key to the park.
The shave ice truck immediately drew large crowds, Ha said. She advertised the Stewart Park weekend location and posted items on social media to grow her customer base. Ha said she turned down several events because she wanted to focus on the growing business at Stewart Park.
But everything changed on May 26, when Ha received an email from Kris Ammerman, parks and recreation manager with the City of Roseburg. Ammerman wrote that city officials realized they had made a mistake in approving the shave ice truck at the park and that allowing a vendor there outside of a special event, such as Music on the Half Shell, is in violation of city zoning laws.
“In light of this new information, we will not be able to allow you to continue using Stewart Park as a business location unless you are part of a special event,” Ammerman wrote. “I apologize for this oversight. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me directly.”
Ha wrote Ammerman back the next day.
“Your email yesterday about the Park’s decision to not allow our business to operate in Stewart Park threw us for a loop, as our understanding was a continued operation throughout the summer. This change will have a tremendous impact on our business now that we are almost a month into operation on an already temporary schedule (summer),” she wrote. “I appreciate your apology for the oversight in allowance but this will impact our business greatly. My hope is that we can work together to come up with some alternative options or permits to be allowed at the park on the weekends.”
Ammerman wrote Ha back the same day, again apologizing for the mistake the city made:
“My initial decision was made without all of the information. Once all of the information was presented to me, I realized I made a mistake and that I had to correct course. I consulted with city leadership and they confirmed that I had to rescind my decision to be in compliance. We cannot knowingly violate our own ordinances. I apologize again for the impact this will have on your business.”
Ha wrote back Ammerman one last time:
“I am asking you to put yourself in my position. We are respectful to the park. We clean up after every operation. We are bringing a lot of people to the public park to enjoy and have received overwhelming support from the community and our location ... Then, out of nowhere, we are told, via an email, that our last day at the park will be in 4 days, to find a new location and that the Park’s department made an oversight error and no talks of any other alternatives or even talks about working with us to collectively find a solution.“
Ha said she never got a response to that letter.
NOW IN SUTHERLIN
City Manager Nikki Messenger has said since Ha may take legal action, the city will not comment on the specifics of the permit.
Messenger did say that the city has only allowed vendors to operate within parks as part of a permitted special event like Music on the Half Shell. There have been exceptions, such as concessionaires at various parks, she said, but they are usually selected through a bidding process and are under contract with the city.
Ha said she is not sure what she will do next. For now, Wailani ice is operating at Central Park in Sutherlin Friday through Sunday. Ha also said she has been approved to sell her shave ice during Music on the Half Shell events, “so we are kinda going to be back at Stewart Park one way or another.”
But she still wants to return to Stewart Park on the weekends, she said.
“We do not want to fight with the city, all we are asking is for the city to abide by their original agreement to allow us to operate at Stewart Park for the remainder of the summer,” Ha said. “The city approved us and agreed to allow us to operate throughout the summer, and we were in operation for almost a month before the city notified us of their “oversight” mistake. We feel that our business should not be punished because of the city’s own admitted mistake and that the city should uphold their original agreement with us.”