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no confidence in JPNC, ad hoc committee on Whole Foods

Jamaica Plain, MA

June 6, 2011


An open letter to the JPNC, its Whole Foods Ad Hoc Committee, neighbors and friends: 


I am writing to you to formally resign as a member of the JPNC’s special Ad Hoc committee regarding Whole Foods and the future Whole Foods site, previously the Hi-Lo grocery story in Hyde Square.  My reasons for this relate to serious flaws with the process, intent, and lack of transparency of both the JPNC and this committee.


I have been a longtime resident and homeowner in Hyde Square, and have been privileged to participate in many community discussions during my time here.  They have typically been mature, tolerant, and based in reality.  I was excited that, in these currently troubled financial times, a business of Whole Foods’ calibre would be opening in a previously derelict location nearby to my home, bringing jobs, commerce, access to quality food, and further economic diversity to our community.  


With this in mind, in good faith, I volunteered as a member of the JPNC’s ad hoc committee.  I had anticipated an open and honest dialogue about the betterment of Jamaica Plain, through an equitable and reasonable process, with clear goals and anticipated outcomes.  I had hoped that the JPNC in general, and the Ad Hoc committee in specific, would be a venue for productive as well as representative conversation by members of the Hyde Square community on all sides of this issue. However, the makeup of the Ad Hoc committee consists of several members who do not legitimately reside or necessarily work within JP.  The membership is strongly skewed against those who might define themselves as “pro Whole Foods.”  Members of the community who were not appointed to the committee were nonetheless permitted, and even encouraged, to not only attend meetings, but actively participate in and dominate not only the dialogue but also the document being generated by the Ad Hoc committee.  Ultimately, I question the legitimacy of the intended charge of the committee (which was never clearly articulated a priori), the committee’s membership, and the controlling participation of several JPNC members on the committee. 


Within the early meetings of the committee, it became apparent that the goal for the Ad Hoc committee set by the JPNC was to generate a “researched” document to be presented by the JPNC as a means of assessing the current relevant state of our community as well as the possible impacts and future of the proposed Whole Foods on Centre street.   Despite seemingly articulate goals, in actuality, these meetings rapidly devolved into jockeying for attention by various community factions, and dissenting opinions were frequently and aggressively squashed.  It is my feeling and disappointment that the lack of clear process yielded a degree of chaos that was unable to foster compromise, let alone solutions.  I observed pro-Whole Foods community members’ ideas and concerns be treated in a dismissive manner by the majority of the committee (both JPNC and non-JPNC members).  


Ultimately, I feel that I cannot participate in a group that cannot articulate a purpose and intent and be transparent with the community about that purpose.  I have grave concerns about affiliating myself with a group that cannot equitably behave and define itself and its goals.  The sole tangible outcome of the work of the committee, at this time, appears to center on obtaining an aggressive beneficial community benefits package from Whole Foods, with a particular focus on placating noisy special interest groups that do not, in fact, represent what I believe is the majority in JP.  This is not an action that has been uniformly applied to businesses (or businesses of a certain size) in Jamaica Plain.  While surely any new large-scale business in JP will present legitimate concerns (such as traffic, pollution, waste management, ethical treatment of employees, etc.), these have not been the issues addressed.  I do not believe that it is under the purview of the neighborhood council to intercalate itself into a private, legal, and binding business transaction to this extent.  


There are many possible futures, and concerns about those possible changes (such as affordable housing, cultural sensitivity, content of our food supply, etc.) are worthy of respectful discussion.  However, at this time the conversation about Whole Foods has devolved into prophecies regarding social class, race, and constantly shifting demographics in the urban environment in which we live, and deviated dramatically from those issues that we might be able to investigate and solve about a single store.


In good conscience, I cannot participate in the generation of the JPNC’s ad hoc committee’s actions, and I do not support or endorse the process, intent, or product of the committee.


Sincerely yours, 


Erica Bial, M.D. M.P.H.

Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain




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Erica, I applaud the reasoned and objective tone of this letter. It's unfortunate that the committee is losing you as a member. Also, thank you for leading by example. I never would have considered participating on the committee. (I'm not so great at holding my tongue when annoyed, LOL.) 



Dear Erica,
It is with sincere disappointment that I except your resignation, although as you've missed the last 4 meetings it doesn't come as a surprise to me.  I feel that you never gave me, this committee, or this process a fair chance to have open and honest dialogue and to work toward compromise and solutions.  Since the April 12th meeting, when you and nine other community members were chosen to sit on the committee, we have met seven times, with one more meeting scheduled for Monday night, June 13.  Unfortunately, you only attended two of the first three meetings and have not interacted in any way with the committee or myself since our May 3 meeting, over a month ago.  I have reached out to you, individually, via email to ascertain whether you've had concerns about the process or whether something else had come up that had affected your ability to participate in the committee and for over a month you chose not to voice your concerns, until this public statement.  
While I am not going to respond to each of your concerns, I would like respond to your concerns about the make-up of the committee.  First, all members are residents of Jamaica Plain and/or owners of businesses based in Jamaica Plain, consistent with the by-laws of the JPNC.  As I'm sure you recall, all members of the committee were chosen at random, although two slots each were reserved for people who identified themselves as either pro or anti Whole Foods.  I acknowledge that the randomness of the process did result in a committee makeup that is more critical of Whole Foods.  However, you were selected as one of the two people who identified themselves as pro-Whole Foods.  Thus your lack of participation has further skewed the balance.  Your decision to claim a "pro-Whole Foods" slot, and then not participate in the committee, has weakened the position you claim to support and the voice you signed on to represent.
Finally, the entire purpose of the JPNC is to engage residents and business owners in decision-making processes.  To that end all of our meetings, but especially our committee meetings,  are open public meetings, and we actively encourage non-Council and non-Committee members to participate.  If our goal is to represent the voices of our community, how can we limit participation?    I am truly grateful for the amount of work and effort many people who were not randomly selected to the committee have put into our work.  They have chosen to make their voices and perspectives heard, while others, such as yourself, have not.
As you may be aware, we're working on editing our report, which will hopefully be completed next week.  I feel extremely confident in saying that not one member of our committee will be 100% behind our final product, but I remain hopeful that our process will create something that begins to move this currently divisive debate toward compromise and solutions and I'm thankful for the people who have stayed with the process as this committee has evolved over the last two months.  
Steve Laferriere, JPNC ad-Hoc Whole Foods Committee, Chair

It's important to note, one other member of the ad hoc committee resigned Tuesday as well and in her letter stated a third is resigning, or already has as well. You can read Anne Mackin's resignation letter here. Thank you


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