Dueling Whole Foods petitions keep growing

May 13, 2011
By

David Taber

Web Exclusive

Whole Foods Market has a signed lease for to move into 415 Centre St. and has begun renovations, but that has not deterred local petitioners gathering signatures for and against the opening of the new store.

As of last week, about 1,500 people had signed a petition opposing Whole Foods being circulated by the advocacy group Whose Foods? Whose Community? About 780 people had signed a pro-Whole Foods petition circulated by the group JP For All—485 of them from Jamaica Plain.

Rick Stockwood, a Hyde Square homeowner and founder of JP For All, told the Gazette he started the pro-Whole Foods petition because, “The only group being vocal was a group against Whole Foods…I thought, there is nowhere for me that my voice is being heard out loud.” Stockwood said he has collected most of his signatures on-line through his website, www.JPForAll.org.

His petition also calls for a new Latino Grocery in Hyde Square.

Whose Foods spokesperson, Jen Kiok, former director of the JP-based nonprofit Spontaneous Celebrations, said she thinks the opposing petitions and strong disagreement in the community are indicative of “tension that has been in the community for many, many years.”

Shifts in the neighborhood’s demographics and housing prices are inevitable, she said. But Whose Foods wants to preserve the “economic and social diversity of JP.”

Kiok said Whose Foods has collected most of its signatures in-person on the street and at community gatherings. That includes last weekends Wake Up the Earth Festival, where Whose Foods expected to gather 500 signatures, she said. Whose Foods also has an on-line petition at www.WhoseFoods.org.

Whose Foods paid a visit to Whole Foods Market’s regional headquarters in Cambridge in March to deliver the first 1,000 signatures the group collected.

Stockwood said he is worried that vocal opposition to the store is “chipping away at Whole Foods’ ability to put its best foot forward.” Whole Foods should be viewed “as a partner in the neighborhood, not as an adversary,” he said.

A public relations professional, Stockwood said he used to work for Stop & Shop doing public outreach for the supermarket’s chariable giving efforts. He helped raise $20 million for things like food banks and pediatric cancer programs, he said.

Stockwood, who runs the Hyde Square-based public relations firm r-ticulate, told the Gazette he has no relationship, paid or unpaid, past or present with Whole Foods Market. He has had “no conversation or connection” with Whole Foods, he said.

“I have seen the positive things that can happen when a market comes into a community,” Stockwood said.

He said he is looking forward to hearing from Whole Foods about how the new grocer plans to address traffic and parking issues and other issues that could affect the community.

He said Whole Foods’ yet-to-be-scheduled community meeting will be an opportunity for the store to “come to the community with what they think is an appropriate plan for them.” He said he is hopeful that Whole Foods will “address issues raised by us” and that community concerns will be addressed “without accusations or predisposed ideas of what the community deserves.”

He said he declined an offer of a seat on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Ad Hoc Whole Foods Committee. That committee is working to develop the parameters for a community benefits agreement with Whole Foods ahead of a community meeting the grocer said it would announce this month.

Stockwood said he felt it was inappropriate for the JPNC to vote in February to oppose Whole Foods moving into the neighborhood. “The community benefits conversation should have taken place before the JPNC took an official stand,” he said.

Likewise, he said he is not opposed to the idea of asking Whole Foods to set up a trust fund to support affordable housing in JP—an idea recently put forward by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. But, he said, he was upset that the senator said she would oppose Whole Foods’ move into the neighborhood if it did not agree to set up the trust fund.

Kiok told the Gazette she is not as hopeful as Stockwood about Whole Foods’ planned meeting. She is distressed, she said, that Whole Foods has not yet scheduled the meeting it has been promising for months.

She said she would have expected multiple meetings to have happened by now. “I think, from where we are sitting, it is a missed opportunity…In terms of being a serious community partners, I think Whole Foods missed the boat.”

Kiok also had a different take on Chang-Díaz’s proposal for an affordable housing trust fund. “Whose Foods, as a coalition, is still opposed to Whole Foods coming, but [Chang-Díaz’s proposal] is the closest thing we have seen to a proposal that addresses the issues of diversity and affordability in our neighborhood,” she said.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

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