Town Square

Post a New Topic

Teens say eastern Menlo Park is a 'food desert'

Original post made on Jan 7, 2016

Neighborhoods in eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are a "food desert" – a region where residents lack access to affordable, nutritious food.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 7, 2016, 9:20 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 7, 2016 at 9:48 am

If there is really an unsatisfied demand for this kind of food in eastern Menlo Park, then why doesn't an entrepreneur open a store to satisfy the demand and make money?

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 7, 2016 at 11:57 am

Perhaps SamTrans could tweak some of their routes (which mostly appear to send empty buses running around in circles) to provide easy connectivity to grocery stores and other essentials.

Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 7, 2016 at 11:57 am

Soaring rents make opening any new business very difficult, especially low profit retail like fresh foods. Supermarkets are disappearing all over Silicon Valley for this reason.

Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 7, 2016 at 12:40 pm

The city could try working with developers to subsidize grocery stores. I know that Palo Alto is trying this (with mixed success). The idea is that grocery stores built into new housing developments will reduce car traffic, thus reducing the impact that the development has on the surrounding community.

Posted by jUDY
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jan 7, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Apart from high rents discouraging stores there is also the problem of security. Unfortunately, some neighborhoods are more vulnerable to store hold-ups and theft. What is the solution to that reality?

Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2016 at 3:13 pm

@Joseph E. Davis -- The free market does not *ALWAYS* provide a solution to a given problem, much as you wish it to be otherwise.

Posted by Mi Pueblo?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 7, 2016 at 10:52 pm

The Belle Haven/East Palo Alto area already has a fantastic full-service supermarket, Mi Pueblo, located an easy drive or bike ride from anywhere. Does it really matter that it's a regional rather than a national chain? The food quality is superior to that of Safeway, better prices too. Maybe the complainers should patronize their local stores instead of whining.

Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 8, 2016 at 11:29 am

I really believe it's more about personal eating habits, than availability.

There are two local markets in Belle Haven that sell vegetables, an easy walk from most homes; generally the quality is OK. It's where we go if we find we need a common ingredient in the middle of preparing a meal. They're businesses; if people ask and pay for a bigger variety and better vegetables, I'm sure they'll take your money.

My wife and I are generally particular about our vegetables. We go to the Mountain View farmers market. Yes, it's a 10 minute drive, but there aren't many places that can match it for the variety of produce. Most households in Belle Haven have access to cars.

Facebook had a farmer's market last autumn; we faithfully went there, too, hoping that it would get big enough so we didn't have to go to Mountain View. However, the number of people going there was very low, especially towards the end.

Most homes in Belle Haven have yard space that could be used to grow vegetables. In general, the soil and climate in Belle Haven is fantastic for this. We grow artichokes, tomatoes, basil, sugar snap peas, green onion, zucchini, kale ... there's a community garden available for those who don't have access to space, near the Boys and Girls Club.

In other words - the food quality issue is best handled by individuals taking initiative.

Posted by Supporter of good nutrition
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jan 8, 2016 at 4:59 pm

I applaud these students for making good nutrition for their community a priority by formulating concrete suggestions. Their plan may need some tweaking given feedback from the greater community and others. I applaud these young people for being pro-active! Keep up the good work! And, best of luck in making your local community healthier.

Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 9, 2016 at 9:33 am

Gang, if you are reading some of the negative comments in this Town Forum, I know they must hurt a little, but it's the last lesson of leadership. All community serving work comes with criticism.

These comments don't measure the character and courage you displayed by using your voice to identify an issue in you neighborhood you wanted to fix.

These comments don't measure the quality of the work you created, nor the commitment you put in over months to develop this project on your own time, while balancing school work and the pressures of your personal lives.

Being called names like "whiners" and "complainers" comes with the territory of sticking your neck out there to help others. There are more arm chair quarterbacks in this world than doers. If no one is calling you a name you are more than likely sitting in the arm chair rather than fighting for better tomorrows.

Believe in yourselves and believe in each other.

I believe in you.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2016 at 10:02 am

Mi Pueblo is not a bad grocery store, but it's quite the schlep from East MP for somebody who doesn't drive or bike - it's an hour to an hour and a half round trip by bus, and too far to walk.

The reality is - people eat what's close and convenient. If your close and convenient grocery store has respectable fresh produce, you're more likely to eat it. If your close and convenient grocery store mostly has beer and starchy junk food, you're more likely to eat that.

Most of the 'nice" side of Menlo Park is within a mile of at least one respectable grocery store. That's not an unreasonable expectation for the other side of Menlo Park either.

And for those that voiced security concerns - we're talking blue collar, hard workers trying to feed families on a budget, not the criminal class. I bike through regularly and feel just as safe as I do on the "nice" side of town (possibly safer - the drivers are less likely to go into "entitled jerk" model)

The students pointed out a real problem, with real long term consequences for everybody. Better / more useful SamTrans connectivity should still be an option for a short-term fix. The long term fix is figuring out what would be a viable grocery store for East MP, and helping entice it into the neighborhood.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2016 at 10:09 am

Also, Menlo Park is notoriously difficult to build / permit anything.

Let's do a thought experiment and say that Wal-Mart wants to build a Neighborhood Market on a parcel right in the middle of Belle Haven. (That's a grocery store, with the usual expected variety, and Wal-Mart prices). How much opposition / hassle / difficulty would they get in permitting / zoning / land use?

If the neighborhood is viable but a little marginal, do you think that Menlo Park's approach to such things would encourage or discourage this store, which would provide a clearly valuable option for the neighborhood?

Posted by mbl
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 9, 2016 at 1:17 pm

mbl is a registered user.

Regardless of how anyone feels about the topic these youngsters picked to study, and about the varied roots and possible solutions to the identified problem, I am glad to see them taking the initiative, and having the courage to put themselves out there.

Young people being willing to participate in society is a step in the right direction. The skills they gain, and the perspectives they develop will open doors for them, and society will benefit from their willingness to do something about social ills.

Posted by Mi Pueblo?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 9, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Ray Mueller, it's great that you are volunteering, but you are doing these kids a tremendous disservice by telling them to ignore criticism and only listen to praise. Your advice is a path to stagnation, not to learning, growth, and self-development.

In this particular situation, dietary choices, not availability of quality food, are most likely the culprit. A lot of people are making bad choices, especially when feeding their kids -- a problem I've often observed at family and community events. If the corner markets aren't stocking good produce, the reason is that no one is buying it, and it's expensive for them to invest in perishables that no one wants.

Painful as it can be, a little self-reflection and questioning of your own assumptions, no matter how well-intended, can be beneficial and ultimately produce better results. And would also be a better lesson for the teens. Blaming Safeway is pointless!

Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 9, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Mi Pueblo, I believe you were the person above who wrote about these students: "Maybe the complainers should patronize their local stores instead of whining."

With that backdrop I'd like to respond to your immediate comments.

First, no one is teaching the kids to ignore criticism and listen only to praise. The lesson I am hoping the kids learn is not to worry too much when adults call kids names like "complainers" and "whiners" while hiding behind online anonymity.

Second, these kids aren't casting blame on Safeway or anyone for that matter. They understand the City of Menlo Park is undertaking a General Plan update right now, putting together a 20 year development plan for the area in which they live. They have a right to use their voices and ask that the plan include zoning for a grocery store akin to a Safeway. That's not whining, complaining, blaming, ignoring criticism, or any other thing you you might want to accuse them of doing. That's the kids just using their voice to engage in the civic process.

Mi Pueblo, let's make a deal. I am not going to write on this Town Forum again. You can call me names to your hearts desire and make all sorts on arguments. Just focus them at me. Leave the kids alone.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2016 at 1:00 pm

I remember when Belle Haven and East Palo Alto were *real* food deserts. So yes, I'm saying both areas have improved. Now each area has a farmer's market. Restaurant delivery has also improved. Both areas have active backyard and community garden networks that have yielded -literally - wonderful results. Belle Haven has a number of small restaurants in close proximity and it's possible to eat relatively healthy food at them. What is sorely lacking is a decent grocery store close to the southern Belle Haven area. At the northern side Delucchi's isn't far. But a decently stocked small grocery store will be expensive, as The Willows Market is.

I encourage these kids to consider the place that grocery home delivery has in their perception of a food desert. Some options are much more affordable now with lower delivery fees than they used to be. I just talked to sone neighbors about this and they think it's more of a cultural bias that prevents them from considering home grocery delivery. These students can truly learn the power of being consumers by considering *all* options for their area.

Posted by easong
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Here's a win-win moneymaker. Facebook opens a supermarket, perhaps partnering with a real grocer, in the Bellhaven neighborhood. It should be near Marsh for maximum commuter convenience, while also benefitting all the residents east of 101 in MP and EPA. The reently failed Fresh Market off Embarcadero almost succeeded in that regard, but their location west of 101 doomed it for lack of Dumbarton or Redwood City bound commuters. Facebook is forward thinking, and Menlo focused. Right?

Posted by Mi Pueblo?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 10, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Safeway is not a charity. You may be able to talk Facebook into underwriting this venture (or bringing back their market) but Safeway owes Belle Haven nothing.

If the students truly want to bring a national chain store to Belle Haven, they need to create a business case. Survey Belle Haven residents: find out where they shop now, how much money they spend, what foods they would like to buy, how much extra they're willing to pay. Collect the data, crunch the numbers, make some projections, create a compelling argument that may motivate management to take another look. Safeway will shed no tears over hypertension or poor health; they're about making a profit.

Putting together a convincing argument is a lot of work and it's not as thrilling as getting your picture in the newspaper, but it might be effective, whereas trying to guilt Safeway into building a store has an approximately 0% chance of producing desired results.

P.S. I would never buy produce at Safeway. It's overpriced and inferior. Be careful what you wish for!

Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 11, 2016 at 10:51 am

There are 10 grocery stores in EPA and Belle Haven east of 101, 2 of which are located on Willow Road. Sure many are small markets. It also sounds like there was a farmers market. There are many other markets on the West Side of the Freeway in MP, PA and RWC that are less that 2 miles away. Safeway in MP is 3 miles. This is hardly a food desert, tho I am sure the prices are high and the quality poor, the same is true on the west side, high prices and poor quality.

Posted by Appreciative Fellow Citizen
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jan 14, 2016 at 11:53 am

Thank you, Mr. Mueller and Students for taking concrete steps to improve the health in your community. The USDA recognizes that more citizens need better access to nutritious, affordable food, as you probably know. A name calling showoff has attempted to trivialize, minimize, and misrepresent (e.g., misquoting Mr. Mueller) your hard-earned efforts. However, YOU are the ones who presented an actual case to the Council and whose voices will be heard, regardless of the ultimate decision. Also, of course you earned the right to have your photos taken! Stand tall and be proud! The world needs more respectable, hard workers like you. Thank you!

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Los Altos restaurant and lounge closes just months after opening
By The Peninsula Foodist | 6 comments | 7,326 views

Bike lanes don’t belong on El Camino!
By Diana Diamond | 27 comments | 6,034 views

Farm Bill and the Future – Final Post (part 10)
By Laura Stec | 12 comments | 2,202 views

It’s ‘International Being You’ Day
By Chandrama Anderson | 20 comments | 2,166 views

How quickly will we electrify our homes?
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 980 views