JPNC revives Whole Foods Committee

November 4, 2011
By

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council voted to revive its Ad Hoc Whole Foods Negotiating Committee at its Oct. 25 meeting, where it also selected anti-Whole Foods activist Ben Day to chair the council for the upcoming session.

The meeting also featured a spirited conversation about whether the council should support Streetcar Wine and Beer’s bid to open across from the Curley K-8 School at 488 Centre St.

The Neighborhood Council also announced that it will be voting at its Nov. 29 meeting to appoint new councilors to the five current vacancies—three in Area A and two in Area B. For more information, contact info.jpnc@gmail.com.

It was apparent from the meeting that a number of the newly elected JPNC members want to continue public discussion about Whole Foods’ move to the neighborhood, but it was not clear what their goals for the revived committee are. Whole Foods met with the JPNC negotiating committee once but has not communicated with the group since then.

At an action protesting Whole Foods’ refusal to sign a community benefits agreement Oct. 31, Day told the Gazette that his understanding is that “the mandate to the negotiating committee is more about working with community groups than working directly with Whole Foods…to see what community groups want to do with Whole Foods, and support them.”

The JPNC elected Day over former chair Andrea Howley at the meeting, and elected a new vice-chair and secretary-treasurer.

Day was elected to the chair position over Andrea Howley, who has chaired the council for its last two-year term.

One of a number of new councilors who became involved in neighborhood politics via the controversy over Whole Foods move to the neighborhood, Day voiced concerns about the move in a letter to the Gazette earlier this year. In that letter, he advocated for the grocer to set up an affordable housing fund for the community to counter the gentrification of the Hyde Square neighborhood.

In remarks prior to the council vote, he indicated he would not attempt to make Whole Foods a major focus of the council again this session.  “The issue of Whole Foods has come to define the image of the council, with people who see it as a sign of gentrification on one side, and people who see it as economic development on the other,” he said.

He said he is hopeful the council will come up with ways to address those issues more substantively, not just “symbolically,” through the Whole Foods debate.

In her comments, Howley focused on her efforts to raise the profile of the council over the past two years by, among other things, publishing detailed agendas for the council meetings and regularly recruiting speakers to discuss city programs.

Michael Reiskind, who has been a JPNC member since the council was founded in 1986, was not re-elected council secretary. Reiskind, who told the Gazette he has been secretary since 2004, was nominated for the position, but withdrew his name when council member Francesca Fordiani volunteered to take over the position. She was approved by acclamation.

Longtime council member Red Burrows was elected vice-chair.

The majority of the 15 members elected to the council in last month’s neighborhood election are new to the job. New council member Ara Reyes took the unusual step of expressing opposition to a beer and wine license recommendation that had been voted favorably out of the JPNC’s Public Service Committee.

The Public Service committee had voted to recommend that the city Licensing Board approve Streetcar’s bid to open a store at 488 Centre St. That proposal had previously drawn controversy because the location is across the street from the Curley K-8 school. Streetcar had won approval from both the Public Service Committee and the local Jamaica Pond Association, and Reiskind, who heads the committee and sits on the JPA, said there had been no public opposition to it at either meeting.

Streetcar plans to only carry high-end beer and wine, and will not have snacks or other products, Reiskind said. But, noting that the owner will be its only employee, Reyes said she is concerned that middle-school students will attempt to buy or steal alcohol from the store.

The JPNC ended up passing two motions: One approving Streetcar’s license and one urging the owner to open at 3 p.m. instead of his current planned opening time of 11 a.m. on days when school is in session.

Contacted by the Gazette, Streetcar proprietor Michael Dupuy said he had not heard about the JPNC recommendation, but that he had heard similar suggestions from others and that he is “happy to consider many different situations.”