JPNC to consult others on Whole Foods deal

July 22, 2011
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Lacking a clear roadmap for moving forward toward a community benefits agreement (CBA) with Whole Foods, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) voted at a June 12 meeting to “circle back” and check in with other community groups and elected officials.

The JPNC will try to reach out to around a dozen groups in the next two weeks to gauge opinions about whether it makes sense to try to negotiate a CBA with Whole Foods, and, if so, what should be in it. The council will discuss its findings at its next regular meeting on July 26.

JPNC Chair Andrea Howley said at the meeting that she had spoken to Whole Foods officials, who said they are interested in scheduling a meeting in August. Whole Foods officials previously told the Gazette they plan to meet with the JPNC, but did not say when.

Last month, the JPNC approved a report by the JPNC’s Ad Hoc Whole Foods committee that includes a number of proposals for a potential CBA with Whole Foods.

The recommendations include that Whole Foods set up an affordable housing trust fund; that it undertake a Hyde Square area traffic study; and that 75 percent of the hires at its new store be local, among other things. Even though the council voted to accept the report, many members said there were things in it that they did not agree with.

Prior to setting up the Ad Hoc committee, the council took a controversial and close vote to approve a resolution declaring that Whole Foods is “not a good fit” for the community.

At the recent meeting, council members declined to vote on a motion put forward by Steve Laferriere, who headed the Ad Hoc Committee, stating explicitly that the council is seeking a CBA with Whole Foods. Instead, they approved a motion by member David Baron simply stating that they plan to reach out to other community groups and elected officials.

“At this point, if we are trying to meet with folks, it might be easier to just discuss next steps than say, ‘We want a CBA,’” Baron said.

Laferriere withdrew his own motion and voted for Baron’s.

JPNC chair Andrea Howley agreed with Baron’s sentiment, saying the council really has no idea how others in the community will react to the JPNC report, or what they think of the idea of a CBA. “The only way we are going to be successful, in my humble opinion, is if we have one group” speaking with a united voice for JP, she said.

Unity is particularly important in this case, council members said. In most cases when communities negotiate CBAs with commercial or institutional interests, there is something the corporation or institution needs from the community—like a zoning variance or other approval.

“Our primary source of leverage is that we are the community,” Baron said. The CBA would be “an agreement about how we are going to work together” with Whole Foods.

Speaking from the audience, Laura Foner, the children’s librarian at the Connolly Branch Library in Hyde Square and a neighborhood resident, thanked the JPNC for moving forward without official sanction or support. “The leadership you have shown has been important and impressive. You took something up because it was important to people. It doesn’t matter if it does not conform to some rule,” she said.

The individuals and groups the JPNC plans to reach out to have a wide array of stances on Whole Foods’ planned move. They include:

  • Mayor Thomas Menino City Councilor Matt O’Malley and state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who are on record as supporting Whole Foods.
  • State Sen. Sonia Chang-Dîaz and At-Large City Councilor Felix Arroyo, who, early in the process, expressed support for the Ad Hoc Committee’s efforts, and who have called on Whole Foods to concession on areas of community concern, like gentrification.
  • Claudio Martinez of the Hyde Square Task Force, who supports Whole Foods and has criticized the JPNC for not paying enough attention to Hyde Square’s Latino community in its process.
  • Hyde/Jackson Main Streets, which released a statement soon after the January announcement of Hi-Lo’s closing stating, “[W]e are committed to working diligently with Whole Foods representatives to ensure that community needs and concern are addressed regarding pricing, [food] selection, and employment.” The Main Streets organization has been quiet on the topic since then. Hyde/Jackson Main Streets executive director Carlos Schillaci did not return Gazette phone calls for this article.
  • Whose Foods? Whose Community? The Coalition for a Diverse and Affordable JP, a local group that opposes Whole Foods.
  • JP For All, a local group that supports Whole Foods.

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