Placeholder Imagephoto credit: Todd Lappin
Dumpling food truck photographed in LA.

You’ve probably driven by it before - that dusty lot on the corner of Petaluma Boulevard and Stony Point Road - if you’re like me you haven’t given it a second thought.

Heather Kratt has though.

"If we could pinpoint what the actual problem was, then we could fix it," Kratt said.

Kratt is co-owner of the still vacant lot next to the Petaluma River. Her goal for the past year has been to transform the property from forgettable fly-by on the boulevard to a welcoming gateway on the city’s north end, called the Floodway Marketplace.

"An outdoor community marketplace, which would be home to food trucks, but also pretty much any other mobile vendor, I should say," Kratt said. "So it could be artists and artisans and musicians and local craft and wine producers."

Kratt’s application for the Floodway Marketplace, so named for the property’s zoning as a floodway, was originally denied by Petaluma’s planning staff.

"It's 100% mobile," Kratt said. "So we think it's the perfect use of that land, but we're having issues with the city to agree with us on that."

Kratt’s appeal was denied last month by Petaluma’s planning commission as well, with the site, Planning Commissioner Heather Bauer said, simply incompatible with Kratt’s plans.

"The floodway is really not the place for it," Bauer said. "We're really going through a, a time right now of intense climate change. Our, our storms are just gonna become way more intense."

Roll through Santa Rosa and you can find a number of food trucks, but drive through Petaluma and you find a much different landscape. Bauer said the planning commission wants that to change.

"We need to be more accommodating for food trucks and hopefully as we update the general plan and our codes that we can add, add them in," Bauer said.

Kratt’s permitting fight is shining a light on a number of community concerns over planning and permitting processes at the city.

Petaluma’s Community Development Director Brian Oh said the city is taking note.

"I think there's a lot of interest from the community to really use, you know, our space and the public realm differently," Oh said.

Oh said Petaluma’s general plan update and takeover of the fairgrounds property should provide more opportunity for food trucks to operate throughout the city.

"You know, we're really looking forward to engaging with the community to understand all the different business and community needs, whether it's around food policy, whether it's around businesses," Oh said.

Kratt has also taken particular issue with Petaluma’s planning department - which, since the 2008 financial crisis, has been contracted out to design firm the Metropolitan Group, known as the M Group.

Sonoma County’s civil grand jury, a public watchdog group, recently investigated the planning department, and Grand Jury foreperson Peter Maschwitz said the jury took issue with how the City contracts with the M Group.

"They have not done any analysis in 14 years," Maschwitz said. "You know, whether it's cost effective to do it the way they're doing it right now or not. And secondly, there's not much transparency in identifying these M group employees."

The City has subsequently labeled planning employees as M Group contractors on the city website.

Kratt’s case has tied together a number of threads with which small business can struggle - land use rules, health and safety regulations, city planning, and local competition.

Oh said he understands why Kratt has been trying to develop the site on Petaluma Boulevard.

"It's essentially the gateway, right?" Oh said. "You, you pop off the 101 and you're heading onto the boulevard into downtown."

Kratt, is also behind the NorCal Food Truck Association, a food truck operator advocacy group.

At the moment it’s the distinct orange El Roy’s food trucks which are often the only ones operating around the city, and Kratt said at the least, she wants to see a more equitable landscape for food trucks in Petaluma.

"With respect to El Roy’s, it's like, I don't want them to be kicked out of any location they're in," Kratt said. "I, I just think that every other vendor should have the same opportunity to work on public property at the fairgrounds and to be able to work on private properties."

A representative for El Roy’s was unavailable to comment on the matter to KRCB News, citing a family emergency.

Kratt said she’s undecided whether or not she’ll appeal to the city council for an ultimate decision on the Floodway site.

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