Report Presses L.A. to Address 'Food Deserts'

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Report Presses L.A. to Address 'Food Deserts'

A report released yesterday by a commission convened by the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, called on Los Angeles city leaders to take the lead in fixing how the grocery industry addresses underserved and affluent communities.

The commission, made up of local political, development, health, and religious leaders, based its findings on public testimony at a May hearing where community residents, industry experts, academics, workers and clergy spoke of what was described as an impending crisis in neighborhoods without adequate places to buy groceries.

Among the report's recommendations to the city and grocery industry is to create a policy of uniform standards for grocery operations in Los Angeles. Said commission member Rev. Norman Copeland, presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Southern California, "The stakes are too high for there not to be some citywide standards."

Other recommendations include developing new incentives, as well as bolstering ones already in use, to attract more grocery stores to so-called "food deserts." The commissioners say, however, that any incentives should be linked to quality of service standards. To industry leaders, the commissioners urge more aggressive engagement with community stakeholders. The commissioners additionally challenge grocery operators to increase store access in underserved neighborhoods and to make health care more affordable for workers.

Notes commissioner Jackie Goldberg, a former California assemblywoman and Los Angeles City Councilwoman, "Together, we're going to push for action on these recommendations -- and we're going to continue pushing until we see real progress."

The report found, based on testimony at the hearing, that even in low-income neighborhoods where major chains have opened, the quality and depth of food and services is lower than in stores in more affluent neighborhoods, leading to residents with disproportionately high rates of diet-related health problems. Commissioners also learned at the hearing that people in underserved areas have a harder time finding environmentally friendly products such as recycled paper products or organic or locally sourced products, and that workers at the overwhelmingly independently owned and non-union stores in such communities were paid less and received less training.

The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores is a coalition of 25 Los Angeles community, faith-based, labor, and environmental organizations. The group has also campaigned against what it believes to be the damaging effects of "two-tier" grocery contracts under which new workers get lower wages and benefits than veteran employees, and is currently working to bring Tesco's Fresh & Easy chain to the negotiating table for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in tandem with its expansion in Southern California.