Around Edmond OP ED: Why Edmond Residents should care about OKC’s upcoming December 17, 2019 Temporary Food Desert Zoning Overlay Ordinance Vote only affecting NE OKC’s Zipcode 73111.

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Oklahoma City Councilwoman Nikki Nice, by a recently closed Smart Saver grocery store, said access to fresh food is the first step in addressing the poor health of many residents in Zip Code 73111.Photo: Nick Oxford for The Wall Street Journal

Many of you may be asking, why in the world would EdmondActive care about an OKC City Ordinance vote.

Certainly anyone who knows me knows I would be pissed to hear of local government anywhere telling groceries or small box stores, or retailers, etc. what they are required to sell or not sell, but sadly I read an op ed tonight written by an Edmond City Council Member that directly stated this was occuring this week in OKC.

Not so, and the op ed, in my personal opinion, was lazy, omitted material facts, and was irresponsible, to say the least.

Simply stated. A public health concern is currently occurring in NE OKC in zip code 73111, that most in Edmond are not aware of.

I’ve been in production of the January 2020 issue, along with online work and holiday decorating so I haven’t gotten a chance to read any papers or online articles, on this topic or at all, and to be honest, any topic, due to the national negativity going on currently.

This is not a partisan op ed. Some of my dearest friends are the staunchest of Republicans and the most liberal of Democrats. I believe I fall right in the middle as a conservative Democrat.

One of my favorite topics is free enterprise, how it works in juxtaposition with an uncontrollable consumer reaction. I am a geek, and this interests me highly!

I couldn’t imagine having a governmental body, whether state or locally, tell me what to sell or I couldn’t do business.

However, can you imagine living in Edmond and the only place in five or so square miles to buy food was a locally owned convenience store and/or four dollar type small box stores, without any grocery store or even fast food or other restaurant options in your local area?

Then imagine your car is broken down, not working well, you have one car for a family to share, and it sucks, but you are forced to head to Ollie & 18th Street or 23rd & Penn. If you have no transportation, it’s going to take you an hour or more by bus to travel (when the bus routes are active) one way.

In NE OKC, this is what the situation turned into, and is currently, after Smart Saver closed without notice this summer. (There is a bright side to this as two groceries are being considered currently, including Homeland Grocery).

The Oklahoman interviewed Councilwoman Nikki Nice December 4, 2019 about the “temporary” zoning overlay — only meant for NE OKC in zip code 73111. Councilwoman Nice’s immediate concern is the unhealthy state of her constituents, which has an above average mortality rate and below average life expectancy.

Many might say, not my problem, but the same folks complain about the high cost of health care for those who become ill due to improper nutrition that falls on the backs of taxpayers, and that we as a society feel forced to deal with the issues a food desert causes to those who are with less opportunity and are less fortunate in finance or health coverage.

And, to be clear, no one here, especially in 73111 wants a handout, maybe just a hand up to obtain fresh food, and this is stunning to me this is even a topic, and by omission some are trying to make it a government over reach topic which is a NON TOPIC.

Tuesday December 17, 2019, the OKC City Council is to decide on restructuring zoning rules that would set standards for Dollar General or the Dollar Store’s small box stores in 73111 with an overlay, requiring the four small box stores to carry fresh food, not just the boxed processed food.

The “temporary” zoning ordinance would require a small box retailer such as “Dollar Store” to devote at least 500 sq. ft. to fresh fruits, vegetables and meats or to have a pharmacy, in order to open within a mile of another small-box discount establishment- not to operate at all, as was inferred in Friday’s Journal Record op ed.

This ordinance is not meant to be permanent, is not to be over reaching by the local OKC government, it is a pilot project ONLY meant to encourage access to fresh produce and meats, and it is specifically meant to be repealed when data shows that 73111 residents health has improved.

This is not something meant to over reach and dictate what retailers must or must not sell.

The temporary zoning ordinance for small box dollar type stores is meant to address a very specific community’s public health issue.

As small box retailers presence across the county are expanding at a speedy clip, while grocery stores are currently struggling and online purchasing is increasing through Walmart, Amazon and other outlets offering home delivery of groceries and home care and personal items, the predominant presence of their business model’s in low income areas taking down some grocery stores, is concerning, to all of us, much less the lower income.

The USDA defines food deserts as low income areas where residents don’t live near grocers or other food vendors that carry affordable or nutritious food, according the the Wall Street Journal, and compounding the problem is lack of reliable transportation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dollar General isn’t and was never intended to be a grocery store, but their stores’ spokesperson  Crystal Ghassemi states every store carries basic items like eggs, milk and bread.

In January 2020, 650 Dollar General’s will begin carrying fresh produce, to which is 4.1% of the company’s 16,000 stores. The store is not happy about zoning ordinances which Dollar General doesn’t believe is a solution to the issues at hand nationally, and nationwide attempts to make more healthy options available at these prevalent small box stores are only adverse to this company’s bottom line.

To be clear, the “temporary” zoning ordinance pilot program for zip code 73111 does not affect any other community outside 73111, and is a pilot program that is meant to be temporary to be repealed once the community heals from health issues, according to the Oklahoman’s interview with Councilwoman Nikki Nice. It is a concept being adopted to help her community get back to a healthy place.

I read a brief op ed this evening in a publication related to the Oklahoman, by corporate ownership, that was vague, uninformed by omission of the temporary status of the zoning ordinance and that it was to be repealed after a matter of public health was improved. The author is a current Edmond City Councilman that brought the op ed in such a way as if a public health crisis was somehow less of an issue, and inferring that the Dollar Store or Dollar General’s are being picked on by local government’s (to which Dollar General’s are already implementing fresh produce in two weeks to a limited number of store’s) by omitting material facts of the OKC temporary ordinance affecting any small box store who wants to open within a thousand or so feet from another small box store as being somehow local government overreach.

Nope. Just keeping a lid on predatory small box store’s growth in a zip code suffering without a grocer or without healthy basic food choices. I applaud the progressive way OKC is choosing to get a grip on this situation and offer it’s 73111 residents a way to improve their life and the lives of their kids and grandkids.

In my opinion, fresh food isn’t a privilege, and without it, communities become sick, which costs local and state governments more in the long run due to medical costs.

The human connection between the current OKC city council and this community is entirely inspiring and I would hope our Edmond City Council would think twice before bashing the authentic connection currently occurring between OKC leaders and its less priveleged residents.

We can all take a lesson in humility and human civility over partisan politics.

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