Genn seeks signatures to fight food deserts
A Vallejo resident who filed an appeal on March 11 regarding a decision made by the planning commission is now collecting signatures for a petition to bring to the city council, which will be hearing and deciding on the appeal.
Jimmy Genn is protesting the commission’s decision to OK an apartment complex at Magazine Street and Sonoma Boulevard in South Vallejo. At issue is a large tract of land that some residents
would like to see used for retail (especially a grocery store which sells healthy food) and/or mixed use, meaning both housing and retail.
The commission voted to allow the housing developer to move forward with his 132-unit gated apartment complex and City Attorney Veronica Nebb said that it would be legal to do so under the general plan, which designates both housing and retail for the site.
Genn, however, says that he has “serious issues” with the decision and that until the new zoning codes are adopted, the space is specifically slated for mixed use — commercial on the lower level, housing above, for example — and that should be honored.
It is true that the plot is currently zoned under “planned development commercial” and once the new zoning goes into effect it will then be “residential high density.” But Christina Ratcliffe, interim planning and development services director for Vallejo, said when in an interim zoning period, the city is entitled to go with whatever it considers the “best fit” for the area.
The proposed developer, Stephen Schwartz, told the planning commission that he crunched the numbers and that corner is not feasible for retail, nor is it feasible for affordable housing (the units will all be market rate).
Genn hasn’t backed down though and has been very vocal on social media about the need to address “food deserts” in Vallejo. Neighborhoods are called food deserts if no fresh produce or other healthy options are available to residents within a square mile.
During the latest planning commission meeting, the commissioners began their final reading of the new zoning map before it goes to the council. Ironically, land across the street from the proposed apartments might now be zoned mixed use, so that corner could get shops there after all.
Genn isn’t just targeting the Sonoma intersection, he said he has identified 12 other spots throughout Vallejo that are food deserts. What he’d really like to see, he said, isn’t so much a new Safeway or a Trader Joe’s, but “mom and pop” shops — small businesses that want to offer nutritious foods.
The council session to review the appeal has yet to be agendized, but in the meantime Genn is passing his petition around. It reads, “This Intersection (Sonoma and Magazine) and twelve others in Vallejo are to be shopping and services “Corridors” with Limited housing. We are for housing, but not 100 percent at these intersections. With shopping within walking/ biking distance, we will be a healthy and respected Vallejo. Driving (to healthy food) should be a choice, not a must. Please say to the city council you want a fun, easy to use, and sustainable Vallejo.”
Resident Belinda Seidemann signed the petition and agrees with Genn.
“Our city must begin to value our neighborhood requirements before those of developers,” she told the Times-Herald, adding that those who created the general plan specifically allotted mixed use areas because they felt they were important and they understood the neighborhoods.
Once there are 100 signatures, Genn said he will meet individually with councilmembers during their office hours or by appointment to push for mixed use and the abatement of food deserts as well as to encourage them to side with his appeal. In hand will be his petition, to show them how many people share his opinion.
“We want to rejuvenate the old mom and pop general stores,” he said. “We still have some of those old buildings in existence. Or, if they are torn down, then we can build anew.”
To sign the petition, go to Change.org and search “Vallejo healthy and respected, full speed ahead.”