Faced with threat of closing grocery stores, City Council seeks food security solutions

Weeks after one of the nation’s largest grocers announced it would close two Long Beach locations after the City Council’s vote to mandate “hero pay”  for workers, the city is now racing to develop a food security plan for the affected neighborhoods.

The Kroger Co. announced that it would close a Food 4 Less in North Long Beach and one of its Ralphs locations in East Long Beach less than two weeks after the council voted to mandate a $4 per hour temporary raise for grocery workers in the city.

While Kroger admitted both stores were “long struggling,” their looming April 17 closing date has city leaders scrambling to ensure that employees are connected to job resources and the impacted communities uninterrupted access to food.

Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents the area in North Long Beach where the Food 4 Less on Cherry Avenue and South Street sits, said it’s important to come up with both a short-term fix for the loss of a grocery store but also a long-term vision for the site, which could include attracting a new grocer.

“I’m never one to take threats idly, so if they [Kroger] say they’re going to close a store and they put a timeline, a warn notice, then you have to start making preparations,” Richardson said in an interview.

Richardson said the approach could include increased farmers market stands, food pantries, and other distribution methods, some of which have already been implemented during the pandemic.

Long term, he’d like the city to discuss long-term plans for the roughly 12-acre parcel that could potentially be used as a mixed-use housing site with retail and another smaller grocery store, one that might “respect its workers and the local community” Richardson said.

“What Kroger did exposed a much greater truth, that local residents need to have more control and freedom in the way they access the food in their community,” he said.

The request was co-sponsored by councilwomen Cindy Allen and Mary Zendejas. Zendejas, who was one of the members who originally called for the hero pay mandate, acknowledged that she and Richardson both represent areas of the city where access to fresh food is limited, which made the announced closures more painful for residents.

“It’s critical that we treat food security as a basic right of our residents and develop a plan to ensure that we’re all working on ways to expand access as a matter of policy,” Zendejas said.

There was no defined timetable for a progress update on creating a food security network, but Richardson said he hoped a report could come back to the council by next month.

It’s expected that a large stimulus package working its way through Congress could be approved by then, which could give city’s like Long Beach large amounts of federal aide to address issues like food scarcity.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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