On taking a Whole Foods position

Since Whole Foods announced its decision to open a store in Jamaica Plain, my staff and I have done our best to understand the different perspectives on this issue.

We met with representatives from Whole Foods; attended many community meetings; spoke with former employees of Hi-Lo, members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and staff at the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and local Main Street organizations; and have read hundreds of letters and emails from JP residents.

As many residents expressed, there are several benefits to bringing Whole Foods to JP. The store would be a source of new, good-paying jobs. This is no small thing. It would also increase access to healthy foods at a time when other socio-economically diverse neighborhoods are suffering negative health consequences due to a lack of healthy options. It would also increase quality of life for residents who want Whole Foods’ offerings in JP.

As others pointed out, data suggest the new Whole Foods would likely rapidly and substantially raise property values in the surrounding neighborhood (e.g., Washington Post, July 22, 2006; Fortune Magazine, July 12, 2007). Increasing property values in our community is usually a good thing. Indeed, it’s something every homeowner in JP—low- or high-income, white, brown, or black—surely hopes for. But if property taxes and rents shoot up faster than people’s incomes can keep up with, we risk displacing longtime JP families and their neighbors, both renters and homeowners.

This rapid displacement is a high price to pay. That’s why I believe, reluctantly, that the disadvantages of Whole Foods’ arrival in JP outweigh the advantages.

Of course, my role as state senator does not afford me the power to prevent the sale of property among private parties—nor should it. However, hundreds of constituents asked me to state a position and offer constructive proposals to help move the debate forward.

In response to these requests, I released a letter with the intent of offering two ideas into the mix of those the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Ad-Hoc Committee will likely consider as they begin the process of finding a compromise (JamaicaPlainGazette.com, April 30).

In the letter, I proposed that Whole Foods commit to hiring local residents for a specific percentage of jobs in their new JP location, and work with community partners to create a housing trust to help prevent the displacement of low-income families in the neighborhood. These ideas represent a more targeted approach to Whole Foods’ typical community outreach.

As always, I welcome your feedback on my position on this issue or any other affecting our neighborhoods.

Whole Foods has said they strive to be a good community partner, and as such, I hope they will be responsive to the requests of the Ad-Hoc Committee and the larger community.

Most important, I hope that, moving forward, this continues to be a community-driven process reflective of JP’s tradition of rich civic engagement.

And, agree or disagree with one another, I hope we can make the discussion over finding a compromise one that’s marked by the fundamental values of mutual respect and creativity that make me proud to call this neighborhood my home.

Sonia Chang-Díaz
State Senator
Second Suffolk District
Jamaica Plain

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