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Neighborhood Council Picks Team to Negotiate With Whole Foods

City Councilor Matt O'Malley opposes a Community Benefits Agreement based on the recommendations in a Neighborhood Council report.

The , a volunteer elected body, has deputized five of its members to negotiate a potential agreement with Whole Foods on what sort of benefits the grocer will provide.

"Community Benefits Agreements" are sometimes crafted when big developments come to a neighborhood. The idea is to mitigate any negative impacts of the new development and enhance positive ones.

The Neighborhood Council voted 11-2 on Tuesday night to create a smaller group to handle any talks with the grocery chain, which plans to open in Hyde Square in late fall. The grocer's arrival has splintered public opinion in JP, with some welcoming the store while others argue it will increase the negative effects of gentrification, like pricing long-time residents out of the neighborhood.

The push for a benefits agreement could help heal those divisions, said Neighborhood Council Member Red Burrows.

"Can we make something positive of this and stop the venom that's being pushed around our neighborhood?" said Burrows.

The move to form the negotiating team came after council members reported the feedback they'd gotten from various community groups and politicians on the recommendations made in a (PDF) on Whole Foods' arrival.

Some of the recommendations in the report include that Whole Foods should provide "affordable, healthy and culturally-appropriate food," that it commit to hiring 75 percent Jamaica Plain residents and that it create a fund for "anti-displacement work."

Another of the recommendations is that Whole Foods create a "JP Bucks" program, a kind of food stamps for low-income JP residents which would be redeemable only at locally-owned JP food sources like bodegas and farmer's markets.

Reaction from stakeholders contacted by the JPNC was mixed. Jamaica Plain's district city councilor, Matt O'Malley, flatly rejected the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement forged from the recommendations in the report.

"While I appreciate the hard work that has gone into preparing the Ad-Hoc Committee’s report, I do not support this community benefits agreement," he wrote in a statement to the JPNC. "It is unenforceable, and several of the requests made therein are unreasonable. It could also set a precarious precedent."

However, the most vocal anti-Whole Foods group, Whose Foods, embraced the idea of a Community Benefits Agreement.

In a letter to the Neighborhood Council, Whose Foods proposed five criteria for a proposed agreement. [Editor's note: That letter will be posted at right as soon as possible, pending resolution of technical problems.]

One of those five points is support for "tenants' rights and affordable housing."

"Due to the Whole Foods' stores documented reputation as accelerators of gentrification in urban areas, we feel that low and moderate income residents of Jamaica Plain deserve a slice of the pie, so to speak, " the letter reads. "We demand that a small fraction of the Jamaica Plain store's annual revenue — 1 percent — be dedicated to a trust fund for the creation and preservation of affordable housing as well as anti-displacement and tenants rights organizing."

A trust fund along those lines was . Her office declined to discuss the JPNC's report, according to Dave Baron, the Neighborhood Council member tasked with seeking out her opinion of the Whole Foods committee report.

Baron said that it seemed to him that the Neighborhood Council has an "optics problem" with people's perception of the report. He said those who actually read the report will find a "pretty neutral report" that makes recommendations in many areas where "pro-Whole Foods" and "anti-Whole Foods" people can agree.

The JPNC continues to reach out to various community groups on the subject.

The negotiating group is made of five council members who volunteered:

  • Jesse White
  • Francesca Fordiani
  • Andrea Howley
  • Karly Ausiello
  • Pam Bender

The two council members who voted "no" to forming the negotiating cadre were Michael Reiskind and Jeremy Harold.

A meeting between the JPNC and Whole Foods has been set for early September, according to Howley, chairman of the advisory board. She declined to give the exact date. However, she said it would be the five members of the negotiating group who would be meeting with the grocer.

JP Pragmatist July 30, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Tue true Bill, but we all know if you were a Marxsist, they would give you a free pass, on a silver platter that they lifted from the palace .. in the name of liberating the platter 'for the people' of course.
Amy BB July 30, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Pat - I agree with you mostly, but I think that the JPNC could become useful once again. I think of them as a 'weather stick' for the decisions made downtown (as you so aptly pointed out - decisions are not made here). But as you and many others have pointed out, their opinions have become useless and ignored (witness how the check cashing place did not get their license to buy gold for cash despite the JPNC approving it). I think if the NC were formed with people with logical / critical thinking abilities, the group could be seen as useful once again. The point is that those Downtown don't know us and the NC's opinion was to help them make a decision that would be in line with the community's wishes or sensibilities (as it were). The issue at hand is that the NC needs to keep in mind is that anything they issue is merely an *opinion.* With the overriding goal to help Downtown make their decisions. **Opinion.**
JP Pragmatist July 30, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Amy BB, My ( and I think many people's) point exactly. I have heard from dozens of downtown people, they they do not take the JPNC seriously for just that reason. They know that the JPNC does not represent the true diversity of our 37, 400 people, so they essentially don't even look at JPNC opinions and havent for decades. and that is a fact. I have been told that personally. so we really do need to have a balanced NC so that we cant start to be taken seriously downtown and by businesses and hopefully future residents.
Bill July 30, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Tis a scene right out of Animal Farm. The platter of Community Control, comrade? Of course, it is stored here for safety and only the Inner Circle may use it. This is done for the good of the community, because we said so. As Napoleon and Squealer dance happily... JP good! JPNC better! Your ideas okay! Our ideas better! Our ideas good! Your ideas bad! "All animals are equal, but some animals more than others."
Mary Hannon July 31, 2011 at 02:19 AM
Go Matt! and about the JPNC - they can serve a purpose as facilitators for downtown boards and decisions and neighborhood associations opinions ... I recommend that every neighborhood association get together and elect a member to represent their neighborhood to the council. "Neighborhood Council" We could have some "at large" seats. The Jamaica Pond Association, the stony brook Association, Sumner Hill, AMSNA, you get the picture.. yes, true that there might not be neighborhood associations in every area but each person should actually represent their neighbors..and right now I see some rogue activists feeding their interests and patting each other on the back - not all, but there are quite a few.

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