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.
Erica Bial, M.D. M.P.H.
Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain
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.)
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