On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a program advocates hope will address food deserts in large swaths of the city.
Bill 2019-245 creates what is called a “Full-Service Grocery Store Improvement Program” in Northwest Jacksonville, under the auspices of the Office of Economic Development.
In a Council committee last week, OED head Kirk Wendland said the program had to be in the Northwest Quadrant, for a grocery store of 10,000 sq. foot or more and in or adjacent to a food desert.
This bill amends, approves and adopts a new Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Incentive Program entitled Full Service Grocery Store Improvement Program; provides for the development of Food Desert Pilot Programs; and providesfor City oversight by the Office Of Economic Development.
This is the outgrowth of legislation from last May, which appropriated $3 million to explore solutions to the issue. A consultant was hired to develop an incentive program for supermarkets, with the idea of offering healthier choices for residents of local food deserts.
The consultant recommended a “Full-Service Grocery Store Improvement Program” and “Food Desert Pilot Programs.”
Full-service groceries include fresh and frozen meats and vegetables, in addition to staple processed foods and baby formula. The pilot programs, responses to changes in food delivery in recent years, include “mobile markets,” participation with convenience stores, and transportation programs.
Governmental support appears to be baked into the cake regarding any brick and mortar operations here. In 2018, Councilors noted that grocery stores in those areas don’t make enough money per square foot to cover overhead.
Action was urged last year after the announced closures of groceries at 300 Dunn Ave. and 1012 Edgewood Ave W. Contemporaneous testimony noted that a lack of food options correlated with higher than standard rates of poverty and infant mortality.
Discussion in a Council committee, where a unanimous vote was preceded by concerns that OED wasn’t being creative enough with mobile programs, was full of “concern.”
A floor amendment expanded the list of mobile options, as discussed in a committee last week, and ensured that the program would come back to Council for ratifying legislation.
Councilman Sam Newby reprised committee concerns, noting that the money would by and large go to a couple of organizations. Reggie Gaffney followed, noting that food trucks and food banks can be a part of the solution.
Gaffney wants “a special task force” to that end. Council VP Scott Wilson would not commit to a task force, should be become President as expected.
Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman recommended “smaller groceries” as potential partners.
Current Council President Aaron Bowman endorsed the proposed way forward.
“This is step one. Let’s get this thing moving,” Bowman said.
However, despite the lopsided vote on a program the Council pushed for with a $3 million allocation in 2018, what was clear was a lack of conceptual agreement as to how the program should work.