Friday, September 25, 2009

Baby and the Bath Water

Yesterday we commented on the misplaced efforts of the City Planning Commission to bring more supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods. And our main point focused on the failure of the CPC to devise ways to preserve existing markets-and the potential that the incentives offered would create an unlevel playing field for neighborhood markets that had been operating without any subsidies for years.

Some of these arguments we have made in regards to the effort to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory; a heavily subsidized project-right across the street from Morton Williams Supermarket-that includes a 60,000 sq. ft. mega food store. And Eyewitness News highlights some of our points, in a story that they ran last night on the new zoning proposals:

"There's a push to get more supermarkets into poor neighborhoods. Without them, residents are forced to shop at bodegas that often lack fresh produce and healthy choices. Now, grocery stores are being lured with incentives. In the Bronx, a Morton Williams supermarket is a good example of a good thing that has lasted. Customers love the fresh produce, and more than 200 items are organic. And shoppers have been going there for decades. "Me personally, I look for price, customer Traci James said. "But I also look for quality, and I come here for quality. Because I like to know what's going in my stomach."

But Morton Williams could well be put right out of business if the development across the street is approved with a large food store; raising the issue of equity and fairness if the new store is midwifed with tax dollars. But the new proposal could do just that if 15 new supermarkets with government incentives are sited in certain neighborhoods where stores are already situated and doing a good business without the government's help.

Here's Speaker Quinn on the program's goal: "The goal here is to make the process of opening a supermarket easier," City Council speaker Christine Quinn said. "And to make it something that developers see as beneficial." But what about making it easier for the existing markets to flourish? Nothing in the current plan addresses this important objective; and without that, invidiousness will reign, and unfair competition will be subsidized.