A Pittsburg city councilman’s effort to improve residents’ access to healthy food by funding a grocery co-op feasibility study fell flat when his colleagues declined to second his motion to call a vote on the matter.
The matter before the City Council was whether to discuss the proposal at a future meeting, which they unanimously declined to do, meaning that Councilman Holland Barrett White stood alone on the issue.
Had the Council voted differently, or voted at all, city staff would have hired a consultant to determine the feasibility, sales potential and suitable locations for a locally owned and operated co-op with a budget of $15,000 to $20,000 paid for from the general fund.
If opened, the retail store would differ from competitors by being owned and controlled by either its membership or workers, according to a city staff report.
“Everybody wants a grocery store,” Councilwoman Merl Craft said. “We want more than what we have in our community. We deserve more.”
While Craft did not ultimately support the feasibility study, she did call the community a “food desert when it comes to grocery stores” and expressed support for an outreach effort to find out exactly how residents would support the Pittsburg City Council in efforts to improve access to food.
White stressed a lack of suitable options for buying food and produce within city limits, prompting some residents to shop out of town.
“Every national chain or every regional chain that you go to in this community, in my opinion, is subpar,” White said.
“Everything is locked up,” White said. “How as a community member do you feel valued if you go into the grocery store and you have to ask someone to unlock the deodorant?”
“That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “That’s completely backwards.”
During a brief public comment period, several individuals expressed support for the idea — including a man looking to establish an organic farm employing transitional East County foster youth, ages 18 to 24, interested in providing fresh produce to the co-op if it opens.
One speaker vigorously opposed allowing the city to spend public money on the feasibility study, telling members of the council it was “not their job.”
“For all of those who say that a co-op is not the business of a city, I guess it’s all in how you look at it because inciting social change is my business,” White responded.
“The local economy is my business,” he added. “Food justice is my business and so is equity.”
Vice Mayor Jelani Killings suggested improving the availability of healthy food through policy by potentially taking actions that could limit the number of “dollar discount stores” and fast food restaurants within the city.
“We have a farmer’s market that’s right downtown every weekend that’s struggling to survive because folks don’t go to it, and that’s free,” Killings said.
He also expressed concerns about funding a venture that would ultimately not fall under city control, as co-ops are typically run by their staff and members.