Residents in south Merced will soon be able to stay in their neighborhood when going on a trip to the grocery store, city officials have confirmed.
A vacant lot on Childs Avenue and Canal Street will be home to a grocery store after the state of California become the owner of the lot, said Frank Quintero, director of economic development for the city of Merced.
The lot was previously owned by the Merced Redevelopment Agency, Quintero said, and after the state dissolved the agency in 2012, its assets had to be transitioned over to the state.
While the process of transitioning is underway, all of the Redevelopment Agency’s prior properties are put on hold, Quintero said. In the meantime the city has met with developers who have “expressed interest” in building a grocery store.
“The city of Merced is continuing to reach out to developers and retail agents to let them know about the project,” Quintero said. “We always want to keep it out on the forefront.”
After the transitioning of ownership, the city will collaborate with the state to have a developer build a store.
There is no time estimate on when the 6-acre lot will be owned by the state, Quintero said, and the location of the lot is the only one in the area zoned appropriately for a shopping center.
“It will be a tremendous benefit,” Quintero said. “There is no doubt. It is something that is definitely needed in the area.”
As of now, residents in south Merced neighborhoods have close access to small markets and liquor stores, said Ronnie DeAnda, 75, a member of community organization Neighbors United for a Better South Merced.
“We don’t want another Dollar General or a mom and pop (market),” he said. “We want a grocery store that will be able to provide fresh fruits, meats and vegetables.”
According to data from the Merced County Department of Public Health, five out of the 10 food deserts (places where fresh produce and other nutritious foods can be hard to find in stores) in Merced County are in south Merced.
The southern part of the city needs better access to groceries, Mayor Mike Murphy said, and is one of the reasons why the City Council is focusing on it.
“It’s a high priority for me to make sure we get a grocery store in south Merced and were taking steps to make sure that happens as soon as possible,” Murphy said.
Data from the Merced County Health department shows 67 percent of adults in the county are considered overweight or obese. Out of the six convenience stores and one supermarket in the southeast Merced area, 14 percent meet food store quality standards, like offering affordable healthy options and being in easily accessible areas.
According to the 2016 Community Health Assessment, a report by the Merced County Department of Public Health, 16.7 percent of adults in the county are food insecure – a higher rate than the state and national averages.
DeAnda has lived in south Merced his whole life. He said the closest grocery store for many south Merced residents is Rancho San Miguel on Parsons Avenue and Save Mart on G Street, about 10 miles away from Childs Avenue.
“We have a lot of folks who can’t find their way to get across town to find these necessities,” DeAnda said. “We’re looking for something for people in this area to get to relatively easy.”
Neighbors United has been working on having a grocery store in south Merced for the past five years, DeAnda said. The group presented a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to the City Council and later started working on the project with the council and Quintero.
“I think it will be a tremendous impact,” DeAnda said. “People have been very looking forward to it and asking questions about it. They’ve been asking for a grocery store and we’re on top of it.”
The councilman representing District 1, Anthony Martinez, said putting in a grocery store is a top priority for him, and it has the potential to attract more businesses and people to the area.
“I think that we as a council need to look at that as a top priority for south Merced,” Martinez said. “We can put together something nice and the community will support that.”
The project will be discussed at the next council meeting Tuesday.
“No if ands or buts, a grocery store will be there,” Quintero said.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486