Hot dog! Let's relish more competition for contract

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The future of a popular hot dog stand at Mary Laveroni Community Park is one of the more unusual issues to face the Groveland Community Services District Board.

On one hand Ken and Dina Lawrence want to keep operating the stand and at least 45 customers like their hot dogs and Polish sausages enough to sign a petition asking GCSD directors to renew their contract for another year.

On the other, a former Groveland restaurant owner complained that allowing the Lawrences to operate in the much-visited, district-owned park gives them an unfair advantage over Main Street competition.

The district signed a contract with the couple in August of 2006 and later extended it through this year. Before the board is a one-year renewal of that contract under which the Lawrences pay GCSD $25 a month and 5 percent of gross sales.

A number of issues free enterprise, fairness, supply and demand, and the role and limits of government among them come into play in this debate.

At one extreme, the district could open the park to all manner of carts, stands, booths and car-trunk hucksters, turning the peaceful oasis into a somewhat tacky free trade zone.

At the other, directors could kick the Lawrence's hot dog stand out of the park and declare it off limits to all free enterprise.

Hungry visitors could either bring a sandwich or trek back to Main Street, sit down and enjoy a restaurant meal.

The hot dog issue proved hot enough that the board last week postponed a decision on the Lawrence contract until Dec. 10. But at least one director, Gus Allegri, was against renewing the contract and pointed out that the park was a "primo location" that conferred such an advantage that McDonald's might pay the district "millions" for the location.

The solution is likely between the two extremes. In reaching it GCSD directors should consider what's good for the park, what's good for the community and what's good for the district itself.

Little weight, however, should be given to Main Street restaurant owners' claims that the hot dog stand is hurting their business. Those who buy a soda and a Polish dog and eat it in five or 10 minutes in a park generally weren't sidetracked on the way to a more expensive sit-down meal on Main Street.

The clientele of hot dog stands and that of restaurants not only differ, but do not often cross over.

Even if they did, throwing the Lawrence's out of the park would not solve the problem.

With a Tuolumne County itinerant vendor's permit, the couple could conceivably set up shop on the sidewalks of Groveland much closer to the alleged competition.

More weight instead should be given to the petition signed by the stand's customers.

` The Lawrence's apparently serve a tasty product and the combination of hot dogs and community parks seems, well, particularly American.

Which doesn't mean the GCSD board should simply rubber stamp a year-long contract extension.

Even Ken and Dina Lawrence admit that the 5 percent cut they're giving the district is something of a sweetheart deal and that, at least during the summer, they'd be willing to pay more. It's something the board should consider.

In the spirit free enterprise, however, perhaps GCSD should open up the competition and call for proposals from all interested hot dog sellers.

If doing business in the park is advantageous, as Allegri and some Main Street businesses say, awarding the contract to the high bidder could bring the district a nice piece of change.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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