As city moves ahead with West Oakland grocery plan, residents talk shop
on June 15, 2011
What do you value most in a grocery store? A friendly environment? Locally grown food? Organic products? For many living in West Oakland, the answer is simple—fresh, quality produce.
According to a recent survey conducted by People’s Grocery, a West Oakland-based organization advocating healthy food, roughly 85 percent of some 300 participants in West Oakland selected fresh, high quality produce out of a dozen other choices as the most important qualities for a grocery store in the community.
The survey is in a response to the city’s plan to introduce a new grocery chain—Foods Co.—to West Oakland, a community described by many as a “food desert” where people have no easy access to supermarkets. Kroger’s Corporate, the owner of Foods Co. and a dozen of other supermarket brands, plans to open three stores in Oakland in total, including two in East Oakland. According to The San Francisco Business Times, the first construction of a 72,000-square-foot store will start next month at the Foothill Square Shopping Center—a few blocks from Oakland’s northern boundary with San Leandro.
Construction for The West Oakland location, at West Grand Avenue and Myrtle Street, however, is in a deadlock as Kroger’s struggles to reach an agreement with the property owners over where the company plans to put the store, said Nikki Henderson, executive director of People’s Grocery on Tuesday.
Last October, the City Council voted to change the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan, allowing the Redevelopment Agency to acquire property through eminent domain, or compulsory purchase, which may likely be used in this case. While many appeared to support the decision at the City Council meeting last year, it certainly has drawn some controversy about whether it’s appropriate to use eminent domain for the sake of a private investor.
“This has deep ramifications because eminent domain hasn’t been used like that, well, for a grocery store,” Henderson said.
But even though the dust hasn’t settled, Henderson said her organization is working with other non-profits to reach out to the community, asking what they hope the store will be like. On Tuesday, some 20 residents showed up at the West Oakland Public Library to discuss the results of the survey. Many agreed to help publicize the effort by bringing more residents to join the discussion and coming back for further meetings.
According to the survey, the second most important quality a grocery store could provide is the generation of local jobs. Jennifer Lin, research director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said during the meeting that once the city used eminent domain to purchase property for the grocery store, it would be better positioned to negotiate with Kroger’s about what percentage of the store’s employees must be hired locally.
“We want residents to be deeply involved,” said Henderson, adding that the survey is just the first step to get community support before contacting elected officials to voice their opinions on the issue. “Any color, any class, apparently we all want the same things [in the grocery stores],” she said.
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