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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.

Neighborhood Council Picks Team to Negotiate With Whole Foods

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.

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