Food distribution facility gets OK from council

United Natural Foods, Inc.

By summer of 2015, the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural, organic and specialty foods industry in North America, plans to have a new distribution center operational in the Garlic Capital.
Rhode Island-based United Natural Foods, Inc. recently received City Council approval to begin construction on phase one of the facility, encompassing 440,000-square-feet in total.
The business will fill 75-acres of the 96-acre McCarthy Business Park on Highway 152, between Cameron Boulevard and Camino Arroyo, just east of U.S. 101. Development of the land and construction of the distribution center will be completed in two phases, according to planning documents.
According to the president of the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation, Tammy Brownlow, UNFI hopes to have the facility operational by July 2015.
“We’re looking to hire between 200 and 400 people in this city over the next two to four years,” said Todd Newland, representing UNFI. “We’re excited to be a part of the community. Part of our culture at UNFI is involvement. You’ll know that UNFI is here.”
The new jobs UNFI expects to create in Gilroy will “go a long way to reducing unemployment in Gilroy,” Brownlow said.
“Gilroy consistently has the highest unemployment rate in the county, and right now, we’re at about 8.1 percent while the county is at about 5.3 percent,” she added. “This will expand and diversify our employment base. It’s a great project for Gilroy, our residents and our businesses.”
But some members of the public said they were concerned about the project’s impact on the environment and who would be hired to build UNFI’s facility.
A Sacramento-based attorney specialized in environmental and land use law, Ellen Trescott, requested City Council hold off on approving the project citing environmental concerns. In a letter sent to the council, Trescott said she was representing a collective of local workers from sheet metal, electrical, plumbing and steamfitting unions called Gilroy Citizens for Responsible Development.
“We ask that the council deny its approval of the project and send the EIR (environmental impact report) back to staff to correct the eight legal flaws we’ve identified,” Trescott said.
In her letter, Trescott said UNFI failed to evaluate or mitigate potential contamination in the soil and inadequately estimated the projected truck traffic, among other concerns.
During the public comment period at the June 2 council meeting, six others took issue with the project, from raising questions about soil testing to requesting local labor be hired to build the facility.
“The actual labor to build the plant will be outsourced; haven’t we had enough of that?” asked Bill Bradley, who said he’s worked in the construction field in Gilroy since 1997. “Use local labor to do the building of the plant.”
Councilman Perry Woodward said Bradley’s comments were the “most telling” about the opposition to the project.
“This is about jobs. This is about a union dispute,” he said, moving to approve the project.
When asked by Councilman Peter Arellano if local labor will be used during the course of construction, Newland said every qualified contractor would have an opportunity.
“They must have a competitive price,” Newland added. “People from other states will be submitting bids—some who work with us on a national level for refrigeration.”
Council Members Arellano and Cat Tucker took issue with staff’s conclusions that no environmental concerns were legitimate and voted against the provision. The item related to the project’s compliance with state environmental regulations passed 5-2, and council unanimously approved the architecture and site plan for the project.