Committee works under tension

May 13, 2011
By

John Ruch

Latino members lacking

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The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Whole Foods is working fast to complete its report—probably including a preliminary community benefits agreement (CBA)—in time for the council’s May 31 meeting.

But it is doing so under internal tension about whether to accept the Whole Foods move into 415 Centre St., where construction is already under way. A largely anti-Whole Foods subgroup of the committee was slated to hold a “visioning” meeting for alternative uses of the former Hi-Lo site this week, at the same time the full committee was scheduled to meet elsewhere.

And there are questions about the apparent lack of Latino representation on the committee, despite impact on Hyde Square’s Latino culture being a key issue in the Whole Foods debate.

“I think I’m the only Latina, and I’m half Latina,” committee member Monica Rey told the Gazette at the group’s May 3 meeting at the Nate Smith House. “I’m disappointed.”

“She could very well be right,” said committee chair Steve Laferriere. “I think we realize that is one shortcoming.”

Laferriere said that the committee considered setting aside a seat for a Latino or low-income resident, but did not, and has not asked members to identify themselves by race or ethnicity. He noted that anyone is welcome to attend the committee meetings and participate directly in the talks. The committee has many Hyde Square residents as members.

The committee of 14 voting members and nearly as many non-voting members is divided into three “working groups”: one on “impacts,” which is essentially focused on the CBA; the “alternatives” group; and “picture of JP,” which is taking a broader look at area business and culture.

The committee is also taking public input, in both English and Spanish, through its website at www.jpnc.org.

At the May 3 meeting, group discussions were lively, covering such topics as Whole Foods’ acceptance of welfare coupons and the nearby Stop & Shop supermarket’s Latino food offerings. Laferriere told the group that his goal is “moving this [issue] from a divisive place forward” with requests to Whole Foods that are “realistic.”

But there was tension between the alternatives and impact groups. Helen Matthews of the alternatives group asked for a study of Whole Foods impacts that does not assume a CBA—an agreement to mitigate possible negative side effects of doing business—will be in place. David Baron of the impact group in turn requested an alternatives study that includes the former Hi-Lo building simply sitting empty.

Matthews told the Gazette that the scheduling of the “visioning” meeting—a brainstorming for what the community might want in the Hi-Lo space—at the same time as the next committee meeting was a coincidence, and expressed some hope that the two meetings could merge.

But, Laferriere said, “Those things are separate.” He noted that the alternatives group does not have any voting committee members, so the committee’s meeting would not be affected.

Matthews said the members of the alternatives group intends to continue working past the committee’s own deadline to gather community input.

On the other hand, the meeting brought together two residents on opposite sides of the Whole Foods issue, who found they have a common experience in nutritional supplements—and in their late mothers shopping at Hi-Lo. The two chatted together about their perspectives.

Miriam Greenspan, a JP resident whose daughter has multiple disabilities, said that Whole Foods—while expensive—is the only place she can buy necessary nutritional supplements that keep her daughter alive. Local markets either don’t carry them or are even more expensive, she said.

“I’m not particularly a corporate lover. But this is the place that sells it,” Greenspan told the Gazette, warning against “demonizing” Whole Foods.

Norma Rey-Alicea, a Hyde Square homeowner and Whole Foods opponent, said that Hi-Lo carried a range of Latin American natural remedies that now can be found only at botanicas scattered around JP. She also expressed broader concerns about the loss of Hi-Lo as a supplier to local restaurants and as a source of affordable, fresh foods.

Updated version: This version clarifies Rey-Alicea’s comments on Hi-Lo.