Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building Blocks Project Newsletter: Volume 12

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The Building Blocks Project works to establish policies that guarantee New Yorkers with Good Food, Good Jobs & Good Health. We strive to preserve existing supermarkets, develop new supermarkets and ensure workers rights to form a Union. For more information check out  Here is our current Newsletter:

Two Bronx Stores Receive FRESH Incentives
A Foodtown and a Western Beef, both located in the Bronx, are the first two companies to apply and receive FRESH incentives

The New York City Industrial Development Agency (NYCIDA) has approved the first two tax incentive packages that will aid the development of two new supermarkets in the Bronx.  This marks the first two supermarkets to receive incentives from the recently passed FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) program.  Let’s skip the politics in this one and get down to the core issues: Jobs and Access to Healthy Food, two of the primary reasons the FRESH program was created.
Though FRESH is still in its infancy stage, two ambitious companies in the Bronx are not missing out on what it has to offer.  Western Beef, who operates non-union, and Foodtown, a union store.  Foodtown will be receiving $3 million in real estate and tax benefits, while nearly $5.6 million in real estate and tax benefits were approved for Western Beef.   You don’t need to be an economist to understand the advantages of utilizing the FRESH program.   Foodtown is investing $3.7 million to build a new 11,000-square-foot supermarket in the Norwood section of the Bronx, to replace their old store which burned down in December 2009.  Western Beef has proposed to invest $11.5 million to construct a new 35,000-square-foot supermarket with a 20,000-square-foot warehouse and an unbelievable 33,000-square-foot parking lot.  The store will replace a smaller Western Beef nearby in the Tremont section of the Bronx.

What about jobs though?  Both stores are vowing to retain the 90 existing jobs and creating 65 new ones.   The FRESH program is enabling both companies to expand, improve their products, and operate more efficiently.

What about food? Both stores will have full service fresh produce aisles available daily to customers.

Foodtown is planning to enter a long-term lease for the property, while Western Beef is beefing up their entire operation with the help of FRESH.  Not only is Western Beef expanding their store by 10,000-square-feet, but the company is planning on opening new departments in the store such as a bakery, and full service deli.  Western Beef is also going green; they are also pledging to install energy efficient equipment and HVAC systems, and to use energy efficient building materials to reduce energy consumption.  

It seems to be a win-win for everyone; the community receives a store that is providing good jobs and fresh healthy food, while the company is receiving tax breaks and incentives.   New York City Comptroller John C. Liu though, is not ready to give his stamp of approval without a rigorous investigation, an act he pledges to do every time the city hands out taxpayer money.      “I take very seriously the job I’ve been given by the people of this city, and I intend to clearly examine our city’s finances, all the more critical in this tough economic period.”  “In reviewing the past minutes and project financing for the items on today’s agenda, I can see significant potential for great community benefits and improvements.  However, we are also committing a substantial amount of taxpayer resources to these projects – over $12 million today alone…It is therefore critical that my office gains a deeper understanding about the kinds of jobs taxpayers would be subsidizing, if costs per job are reasonable, whether all applicants have been treated fairly and whether all benefits being conferred are truly necessary.  Until I have completed such an in-depth review of standards and processes for granting these kinds of benefits, I cannot cast a “Yes” vote.”  We admire Comptroller Liu for expressing the desire to investigate and look over a project, which at its face value seems to be a no-brainer, too many times elected’s have approved finances at face-value, Comptroller Liu displayed much character with his “No.” vote.

To us, we’re really not sure why more supermarket operators aren’t utilizing the program.  It’s an obvious win-win for the operator and the community.  Maybe these first two are simply breaking the ice.

Obama’s $400 Million push for a Healthier America
The Obama Administration’s active push to encourage healthy lifestyles just took another step forward by releasing details on an over $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Last year Michelle Obama created a White House organic garden, encouraging Americans to become more self-sustainable by growing their own vegetables.  This served as a catalyst for a national discussion on the health of children throughout America.  Through the garden, she began a discussion with kids about proper nutrition and the role food plays in living a healthy life.

The Obama Administration’s active push to encourage healthy lifestyles just took another step forward by releasing details on an over $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative.  The initiative aims at bringing grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America.  Sound familiar?  UFCW Local 1500’s Building Blocks campaign began this same initiative (on the local level) a little over two years ago right here in New York City.   “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake,” said Mrs. Obama.  “This isn’t the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved.  So, let’s move.”

The $400 million initiative was created to promote a range of interventions that expand access to healthy & nutritious foods, including the development and equipping of grocery stores and retailers to sell healthy food throughout communities that lack options, these areas are known as “food deserts”.   In order to help community activists and leaders identify food deserts in their area, the USDA launched a Food Environment Atlas online (

One of the primary reasons for the initiative are the plain facts, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese.  One third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma. A recent study put the health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year.  A White House official also said “This epidemic also impacts the nation’s security, as obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.”

Michelle Obama's “Let’s Move” campaign ( pledges ambitious goals to remove all 'Food Deserts' in America in seven years, and to fight childhood obesity at the same time.   Let’s Move was designed to work with communities and identify the problems that are relative to them.  A White House official said, “Let’s Move is comprehensive, collaborative, and community-oriented and will include strategies to address the various factors that lead to childhood obesity.  It will foster collaboration among the leaders in government, medicine and science, business, education, athletics, community organizations and more.  And it will take into account how life is really lived in communities across the country – encouraging, supporting and pursuing solutions that are tailored to children and families facing a wide range of challenges and life circumstances.”  We’re ecstatic to hear about the Obama Administrations decision to tackle this growing problem occurring throughout the United States.  For too long food has been overlooked in politics, which has led to where we’re at today, with national obesity rates tripling over the past thirty years, and more than half of adult New Yorkers being overweight or obese we’re overjoyed about the Federal Government addressing this problem.

Plan for a Smaller Food Print 
The connection between the food and climate change is that carbon emissions are produced at every step in the food system...

Have you ever been overwhelmed with all of the problems with our current food system? Baffled by the thought of transforming our current food system into one that is sustainable?  Does reversing climate change seem utterly insurmountable? 

The “NYC Food and Climate Summit” organized by the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, Just Food and New York University, took us one step further in developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions by transforming our food system. The product of this summit is a report entitled, “Food NYC: A Blue Print for a Sustainable Food System.” According to the report our food system refers to "a continuum of activities, including farming, processing, storing, distributing, preparing and discarding food." The connection between food and climate change is that carbon emissions are produced at every step in the food system.  Because our food system produces one third of green house emissions causing climate change, transforming our food system is a good place for us to start to develop a plan to reduce our food print. The ten-step plan outlined in the report recommends tangible policy changes that focus on building a vibrant local food economy.                 

Good jobs are a major part of the new food economy. Echoing the message of the Good Food Good Jobs Coalition, the report recommends that the City "require companies receiving City contracts or subsidies to pay a prevailing wage and provide health benefits for their workers.”  The report also calls on the New York State Legislature to safeguard farmworkers' basic rights by passing the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.
Imagine going into a grocery store and picking up a product that has a calorie label, a carbon emissions label and a fair labor practices label.  Better yet, imagine public policy that incorporates environmental concerns, fair labor practices and public health.  Now that we have a plan all we need to do is make it a reality.
Download the full report at:

Creating an Economy of Innovation
For all of the New Yorkers that are out of work, Speaker Quinn is providing some solutions to create the jobs we need.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been busy bringing programs and people together to create a job recovery plan for New York City. Her strategy is based on four principles; cultivate an economy of innovation, bolster small business, tax relief for small businesses and workforce education. In her 2010 State of the City Speech on February 18th, she laid out a set of programs, initiatives and legislation to address the challenges that high tech start-up’s face in New York City.

If we gave start-up companies the tools they need, New York City could be the center of innovation. Quinn announced developing New York City High-Tech Connect based on the San Diego Connect that helps start-up companies connect with resources like; talent, investors and a workspace. As well as a Municipal Entrepreneur Testing Service program that would alleviate some of the burdens that start-ups face in testing out new technologies by allowing City owned buildings to be used for testing out products. And to ensure financing, she is working on attracting companies like Citibank and New Grid Energy Solutions to invest in renewable energy.

So how do we keep existing jobs in New York City? According to Quinn small businesses are suffering from rules that “are enforced in a way that’s unfair and inconsistent.” A Business Owner’s Bill of Rights will be introduced requiring City inspectors to provide information to businesses before conducting an inspection. This year the City Council will be creating a “tax credit that will exempt mom and pop retailers from the City’s corporate tax” to alleviate some of the burdensome taxes they face.

In order to make sure that our workforce is prepared to fill these new positions we need to make sure that 1.6 million New Yorkers, Quinn declared  “that are out of school and do not have a high school diploma” are able to take and pass the GED. In order to make taking the GED more accessible, the City will be launching a website where people can register to take the GED and find preparation courses and other materials that will help them pass the test.

For all of the New Yorkers that are out of work, Speaker Quinn is providing some solutions to create the jobs we need.
You can read the full speech at:


South Bronx Fresh Food Retail Attraction Seminar 
Download the flyer: [pdf]

Bronx Invite 

For any questions or comments please send an email to

-The Building Blocks Team,

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