Everything you need to know about rich people in Los Angeles can be gleaned from reading news about Whole Foods.
Last week saw news about not one, not two, but three Whole Foodseses in L.A.: a newly opened one downtown, an under-construction one in Silver Lake and one in Malibu that was not to be. Let's take a look at them and their strange little problems, shall we?
Whole Foods #1: Downtown Los Angeles
Thirty years ago, you'd sooner find a dime bag of heroin than a head of lettuce on Eighth and Grand. But on Wednesday, the kale flowed like wine — as did the wine, for that matter — as a brand-new, 41,000-square-foot Whole Foods opened downtown.
The store features not one, not two, but 350 different kinds of cheeses, both foreign and domestic; a 220-seat bar with 36 beverages on tap (including beer, kombucha and root beer); a counter selling Roy Choi's Chego bowls; a 170-space underground parking lot (that's a lot of realness); and something called a "Vinyl Lounge" (from this photo, it looks less like a Velvet Underground song and more like one of those places in the Beverly Center that old people rest at while their kids run around the Lego Store).
"Step inside the new Whole Foods Market in downtown L.A. and you might just have to pinch yourself," gushed Brigham Yen on his blog, DTLA Rising. "Yes, it’s true and it’s definitely not just a really good dream. In fact, some might say the opening of Whole Foods means downtown L.A. has truly arrived — for good."
Downtown certainly has arrived — for rich people. According to the website Zumper, DTLA is the most expensive neighborhood east of the 405 freeway to rent a place. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment is a whopping $2,460 a month — more than in Beverly Hills!
The once-blighted city center, some of it rebuilt with Community Redevelopment Agency taxpayer-subsidized help for the private developers, now has 52,400 residents with an average income of $98,700, according to a study by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District.
And it's booming like never before. Construction cranes litter the skyline. There are around 90 new developments in the works, including the Wilshire Grand, a hotel slated to open in 2017, which promises to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. The newly opened Whole Foods itself is only the ground floor of what will soon be a luxury apartment building.
Downtown is becoming more and more of a Manhattan-esque residential neighborhood — dense, expensive and crawling with Uber drivers.
Whole Foods #2: Silver Lake
But all is not well in the kingdom of Whole. As The New York Times reported last week, the stock price of Whole Foods is down almost 50 percent since its high point in February.
That's not because the public is losing its taste for organic couscous and vegan pizza. Far from it. It's because you can get that stuff anywhere now:
Costco, for instance, claims to be the biggest seller of organic foods, and Walmart now sells Wild Oats, a brand of organic products, at the same price as similar conventional brands.
In order to compete with such flyover-state brands as Costco and Walmart, Whole Foods is rolling out a new kind of store, one that doesn't sell $40-a-pound brie. It'll be more like a Trader Joe's, its aisles stocked mostly with its own brand of reasonably priced food. They call it Whole Foods 365. Or maybe it's "365 by Whole Foods." Or maybe just 365. Either way, crappy name, guys.
Excitingly, the very first 365 is set to open its automatically sliding glass doors in the summer of 2016 in Silver Lake, the hippest neighborhood in America (circa 2012), where Trader Joe's parking lot jokes go to die.
There was one of those not-really-controversial-but-it's-funny-so-let's-pretend-it's-a-controversy controversies a few months ago, when Silver Lake resident Dawn White posted an online petition calling for a "REAL" Whole Foods, not some "budget" thing with crab that goes for less than $20 a pound. As if.
"This is wholly wrong," wrote the appropriately named White. "The neighborhood is actually comprised almost exclusively of financially secure people in their mid-30s and above and many accomplished professionals with young families."
The petition got tons of media attention but few signatures — only 202 of its targeted 10,000 — proving that Silver Lake residents really do want a semi-affordable, semi-healthy grocery store. Or maybe people just don't give a shit.
Whole Foods #3: Malibu
Malibu is a funny place.
The thin, 27-mile-strip of a city along the gorgeous Southern California coastline is like some mad experiment in what happens when you let rich NIMBYs run a town. Turns out you get a weird mix of gigantic mansions, drug and alcohol rehabs, and not much else.
Malibu doesn't even have its own sewer system — it's supposed to finally get one in 2017. Malibu residents had blocked a sewer system for decades as a way to prevent large-scale development like hotel towers. That means every house has to have its own septic tank.
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And, according to a law voters approved last year, any new commercial or mixed-use developments bigger than 20,000 square feet must be approved by voters via a ballot measure.
The first such project went before voters last week on Wednesday — whether to allow a new 38,425-square-foot shopping center anchored by a Whole Foods — and it was roundly rejected.
“It’s categorically not possible to win an election to build anything in Malibu,” developer/police commissioner/typewriter enthusiast Steve Soboroff told the Malibu Times. Soboroff has filed a lawsuit against the city of Malibu to overturn the law requiring ballot measures for new developments. In the meantime, Malibu will remain woefully Whole-less.
In conclusion: rich people shop at Whole Foods, really rich people build Whole Foods and really really rich people won't let your filthy Whole Foods anywhere near their pristine, septic tank–filled beach community.