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Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

After publishing a letter asking Whole Foods to help set up a housing fund to benefit Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang- Díaz has followed up with a second letter, which tries to clarify her positions about her initial letter. The first letter was criticized by many constituents, leading some to create a Facebook page that wants her voted out of office.

Here is the letter she sent us yesterday:

May 12, 2011

Julio Ricardo Varela
[ADDRESS WITHDRAWN]

Re: Whole Foods in Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain

Dear Julio Ricardo:

Thank you for contacting me with your views regarding Whole Foods Market’s entry into Hyde Square in Jamaica Plain. I appreciate your taking the time to participate in this debate about our neighborhood and to share your perspective with me.

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 points of view 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 JPNDC and local Main Street organizations; and 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 for the workers and families who will be touched by employment, especially at a time of still-fragile recovery for our economy. Whole Foods 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.

Yet, others pointed out that the presence of Whole Foods will likely rapidly and substantially raise property values in the surrounding neighborhood. Experiences in similar neighborhoods around the country strongly suggest this is true (e.g. Washington Post 7/22/06; Fortune Magazine 7/12/07).Increasing property values in our community is usually a good thing. Indeed, it’s something every home owner 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 long-time JP families and their neighbors, both renters and home-owners.

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

To be clear, however, my role as State Senator does not afford me the power to prevent the lease of property between private parties—nor should it. A new group of residents, the JP Neighborhood Council Ad-Hoc Committee, has been charged with helping the community collectively respond to this situation in a way that respects and includes residents on all sides of this issue. 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.

Recently, I released a letter offering two ideas into the mix of those the JPNC Ad-Hoc Committee will likely consider as they begin the process of finding a compromise. 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.

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

Thank you, again, for taking the time to reach out to me. Your advocacy helps bring about better public policy in our district neighborhoods and in the Commonwealth.  Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me or my Senior Policy Aide and JP Liaison, Nika Elugardo, at (617) 722-1673 or nika.elugardo@masenate.gov.

Saludos,  

Sonia Chang-Díaz
State Senator
Second Suffolk District

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The following statement was sent to us from Laura Derba, President of North Atlantic region of Whole Foods. Derba was sent the following questions, but instead issued the statement. Here are the questions we asked:

  • When do you expect the new store to open?
  • What do you think of the two public letters written to the JP Neighborhood Council by Senator Chang-Díaz and Councillor Arroyo? Do you agree with all the recommendations they mention?
  • Will Whole Foods guarantee that cultural food staples from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and other countries of Latin America be stocked in the Hyde Square store?
  • Is Whole Foods committed to the development of a more robust Latin Quarter in Hyde Square? If so, what plans do you have to make this is a reality?
  • How many ex-Hi Lo employees have you hired to work in other Whole Food Locations? How many positions do you expect to have open in the Hyde Square location?

Here is what we received:

We are aware of the avid discussion in the community and online regarding the recent letters issued by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and City Councilor Felix Arroyo to the Ad-Hoc Committee on Whole Foods of the JP Neighborhood Council, and we genuinely appreciate the passionate interest. It’s exciting to be a part of a community that cares so much about what is happening in their neighborhood and we look forward to building positive partnerships when we open this fall.

We look forward to introducing ourselves to the neighborhood later this month at our first Town Hall meeting where we hope we can underscore our commitment to the community—that we are active community partners on a daily basis. From 5 % Days, food donations, event and sporting team sponsorships and community clean up days with Team Members, we strive to support the local community, economy and businesses. Giving back, acting as trusted partner and being a good neighbor supports our core values as a company and we look forward to proving ourselves as a positive community partner to JP residents. I’ll be providing additional information including the date of our Town Hall meeting in my second letter to the community, which will go out next week.

–Laura Derba, President, Whole Foods Market

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What was originally a local neighborhood issue, has now become a hot political potato for residents of Jamaica Plain in Boston. When The Boston Herald published the news in January that a new Whole Foods would be replacing the revered Latino Hi-Lo supermarket, few would have thought that it would cause a hornet’s nest. And that controversy, which at times has reached a level of anger and frustration, took another turn yesterday on Facebook, where a new site to fire Massachusetts state senator Sonia Chang-Díaz was formed.

Called FIRE SONIA CHANG-DIAZ, the page lists its mission as follows:

The ‘Fire Sonia Chang-Diaz’ page was created to serve as platform for residents of the Second Suffolk Massachusetts State Senate District to voice their opposition against State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and her recent anti-business statements.We are a multicultural, intergenerational group of 2nd Suffolk residents and natives who care deeply about the future of the neighborhood and who want to be able to live, work, and raise families here. We are working to stop State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz from creating an anti-business climate in the 2nd Suffolk District. We are not against Sonia Chang-Diaz or anyone who supports her; we are against an anti-business climate in the 2nd Suffolk District.

This powerful campaign is solely the result of the volunteer effort of a grassroots group of folks with no organizational budget or funding from outside organizations, but with limitless passion for what makes a great business community.

The site has 59 LIKES as of this morning, and makes mention of the fact that Senator Chang-Diaz’s public letter to the JP Neighborhood Council was pulled down from her main website.

Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

Other comments on the Facebook page expressed anger towards the senator’s position:

“Well, Sonia Chang you might have removed the letter from your web page.. But it’s everywhere, DEMANDING… your political demise. I’m sure voters will remember this”

“Thanks to everyone who has “Liked” this page. We have some great momentum behind us now! It is interesting to note that Sen. Chang-Diaz’s letter to the JPNC regarding Whole Foods is absent from the senators website. She’s quick to post that the Phoenix named her Boston’s Best Local Politician however; there’s no mention of firestorm she stepped into with her position on Whole Foods. Keep spreading the word!”

“Like a true politician, throw the stone and hide the hand. Well we and many others know the truth. We should demand an explanation…. If not an apology from her…”

“JP residents need to start looking NOW for a serious candidate to run against this woman. She does not represent the majority by any means.”

“Thanks for the “Likes” everyone. Were only just getting started. Sen. Chang-Diaz may be breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Osama Bin Laden is going to dominate the news cycle for the days to come but, voters have long memories and we are not going to forget the statements our state senator has made. Keep spreading the word!!!”

“I don’t live in JP but what she’s doing is ridiculous. She is just like all the other politicians on Beacon Hill. Useless.”

“I had previously always been a fan of Sonia Chang-Diaz, but this populist, nonsensical approach is paramount to her asking for payoffs to “protect” a business. Kinda like the mob. And I am a member of the ad-hoc committee.”

“What a sad sad state of affairs. Why not address crime, safety and education?”

“Senator Chang-Diaz demands fund or business can’t open in JP. Someone isn’t in touch with its constituency.”

We did contact the Senator’s office this morning to get a statement, but they have not responded yet. Once we get a statement, we will share.

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Massachusetts State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz

April 28, 2011

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council
Whole Foods Ad-Hoc Committee

Dear Chair Steve Laferriere and Members of the JPNC Whole Foods Ad-Hoc Committee:

Thank you for your service to the Jamaica Plain community by taking on this new role within the JP Neighborhood Council. I write today to outline what I hope will serve as constructive suggestions for addressing the controversies that have divided our neighborhood since the release of the news that Whole Foods intended to move into the space of the former Hi-Lo Market.

The planned expansion of a Whole Foods Market into the Hyde Square section of Jamaica Plain has generated heated debate among my constituents. Since I first learned of Hi-Lo Foods’ closing, my office has done its best to understand from all sides the different perspectives on this highly divisive issue. I’ve met with representatives from Whole Foods, spoken with former employees of Hi-Lo, heard from members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and spoken with staff at the JPNDC and local Main Streets organizations. My staff members and I attended community meetings at the Blessed Sacrament development, the Kennedy Elementary, and the First Baptist Church, where we listened to the concerns of community activists both for and against the expansion, and in the middle. Most important, we read hundreds of emails and letters from ordinary residents throughout Jamaica Plain detailing how the opening of a Whole Foods in Hyde Square would affect their lives—for better and for worse.

As many residents expressed, there are several positives to bringing a retailer such as Whole Foods to JP. We stand to gain potentially dozens of new jobs in the neighborhood, at rates of pay and with benefits that will likely exceed those paid by Hi-Lo. This is no small thing for the workers and families who will be touched by employment, especially at a time of still-fragile recovery for our economy. Whole Foods could also increase access to healthy food to the Hyde/Jackson area, especially for those without cars, at a time when many other low-income neighborhoods suffer dire health impacts because of the lack of such access. I believe firmly that all people deserve to have realistic healthful food options, no matter what zip code or socio-economic bracket they live in.

Unfortunately, there are also serious negative impacts that Whole Foods’ entry into the neighborhood is likely to bring. I believe, with a heavy heart, that these disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Looking at data from other instances where Whole Foods has located in low- and middle-income neighborhoods, it’s clear that the presence of Whole Foods rapidly and substantially raises property values in its surrounding areas. This is the inherent problem. Even if Whole Foods behaves as the best corporate citizen, the best neighbor possible by all of our usual standards, its presence will still light a fire under the gentrification process that will displace low- and moderate- income residents from JP.

Increasing property values in our community is not always bad. Indeed, this is something every home owner in JP—low- or high-income, white, brown, or black—probably hopes for. But pace matters. A lot. There are families who have spent generations building JP into the incredible neighborhood it is today. We stand to lose many of these families, and their friends and neighbors, if property taxes and rents balloon so fast that their incomes can’t keep up. In order to preserve the character of JP that we all love and believe in so deeply, development has to happen at a pace our neighbors can benefit from, not be displaced by.

Whole Foods has said many times that they aspire to be a positive neighbor and a responsible corporate citizen in the JP community. I believe this is true and therefore ask Whole Foods to recognize that their typical strategy for integrating into new neighborhoods is not designed to protect economically and socially diverse communities. In action, this requires Whole Foods to take some specific steps to help mitigate the impacts described above.

  1. Whole Foods has stated that they expect to hire about 100 workers at their planned JP location. In order for local residents to actually benefit from this job creation, and for Whole Foods’ presence to contribute to local wealth creation, Whole Foods needs to commit to hiring locally for a specific percentage of these jobs.
  2. Whole Foods should also work with credible community groups in the Hyde/Jackson area to set up and endow a community preservation fund for the purpose of keeping Hyde/Jackson area properties affordable for current residents. This will mean front-loading Whole Foods’ typical neighborhood philanthropy, replacing its current strategy of rolling “5% days” and small donations to a variety of groups. The trouble with that existing strategy is that, not too long from now, Whole Foods’ corporate giving in JP will be benefiting the future neighborhood that its presence will create—not the current neighbors who’ve worked so hard to make JP what it is today and who stand to be displaced. Endowing a fund that could buy available property in the Hyde/Jackson area with a commitment to keeping it affordable will require a serious financial commitment—no doubt. But Whole Foods’ detrimental impact on the neighborhood in the absence of such an investment would be of a far greater magnitude.

If making commitments of this size is beyond Whole Foods’ reach, the simplest way to protect the neighborhood would be for Whole Foods to break their lease on the Hyde Square space, or sublet it to another grocer specializing in Latino foods.

I make these proposals as an elected official who represents all of the JP community, and who is committed to stewarding its long-term interests. But I also make them as a JP resident who deeply loves this community—with all its blemishes, all its character, and all its complexities. I know you, as JPNC members, share this passion for our community. I thank you again for your service in tackling these difficult issues and look forward to working with you to find solutions that reflect the pride, creativity, and mutual respect that are the fundamental values of our neighborhood.

Saludos,

Sonia Chang-Díaz 
State Senator 
Second Suffolk District

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The Spanish "¿Y pa' quién?" means "And for who?"

A group opposed to the new Whole Foods store scheduled to be built in the Hyde Square section of Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood has recently launched a new web page to promote their message against urban gentrification. The group, called Whose Foods?, has created WhoseFoods.org. The site contains videos in English and Spanish from JP residents who oppose the new Whole Foods store, which is taking over the location where the Hi-Lo Latino market used to stand for the last 37 years.

According to its bilingual website, the group is “a multicultural, multigenerational group of Jamaican Plain residents and allies working together for a better JP.” It has listed three mission statements, and it is inviting anyone interested in this issue to speak out. The statements are as follow:

  • Against: a Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain and against the continued gentrification of JP”
  • For: a locally‐owned business that serves low and moderate income families in JP and beyond”
  • For: strengthening JP’s cultural, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity”

On Monday evening, February 28, JP will be active, as a Rally for an Affordable and Diverse JP is being planned for 6 pm at Mozart Park. At 7 pm, the JP Neighborhood Council will hold its second neighborhood forum at the Kennedy School regarding this issue. At the council’s first forum on February 7, an overwhelming majority of JP residents opposed the new Whole Foods.

Tomorrow’s forum should be more balanced, since some pro-Whole Foods groups have also been formed, primarily on Facebook. We Are All Whole Foods, formed by JP resident and social media professional Steve Garfield, is perhaps the most active one. It currently has 129 fans, compared to Whose Foods? and their 348 fans. The majority of comments on We Are Al Whole Foods are more pro-Whole Foods. For example, one JP Resident posted the following about the Whose Foods? videos:

Watching the videos on “Whose Foods, Whose Community” I see a distinct lack of diversity, and nothing but opinion full of unsupported if/then statements being made. E.g. If Whole Foods moves in, then rents will increase. If WF moves in, Latinos can’t afford food. If WF moves in, there will be no more diversity in JP. If WF moves in, Latinos won’t be able to find the foods they need for cooking native dishes. What? It strikes me that the underlying motive is really “keep Hyde Square Latino.” Where are the Anglo voices on their site? The Afro voices? The actual diversity of JP which spans cultures and income ranges?

As for an official statement from Whole Foods, we have contacted the Whole Foods Northeast office for comment several times, but they have not responded to us.

Boston politicians have also been contacted to comment about this issue, but except comments from City Councillors Ayanna Pressley and Matt O’Malley, other leaders have not returned our calls or emails for comments. These include Boston Mayor Tom Menino, State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, and Councillor Felix Arroyo. If we do hear from any of these elected officials, we will post their statements.

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