In June, Responsible Growth Palmdale launched a Facebook page to protest a development project near a popular mall in Southern California. In July, Responsible Growth Lake Stevens created a Facebook group opposed to a new Costco in Washington state.
Responsible Growth Astoria emerged on July 17 to challenge a new Grocery Outlet near Mill Pond.
All three groups share nearly word-for-word introductions and the Facebook pages echo similar design and photo elements.
A man who said he manages the Astoria page said the groups are not linked. But it is not clear who is behind Responsible Growth Astoria.
This week, several Astoria residents — including Planning Commissioner Daryl Moore, Commissioner Cindy Price and Sarah Lu Heath, the executive director of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association — asked the Astoria group for more information about who they are without success.
Responsible Growth Astoria has accused city staff of fast-tracking Grocery Outlet’s application to build a one-story, 16,000-square-foot store on property between 21st Street and 23rd Street off Marine Drive.
The discount grocery, an outright permitted use for the property, would be next door to the Mill Pond neighborhood and a new Astoria Co+op store set to open later this year.
The city went through the required public notifications to alert people to the Grocery Outlet project and Thursday’s public hearing in front of the Design Review Committee. Letters from people expressing their concerns about the new store — along with Grocery Outlet’s application and a staff report recommending approval of the project — were included in a packet staff prepared ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
Responsible Growth Astoria lists traffic, pollution and impacts to other small businesses among its concerns. The group has posted information from the staff report and encouraged people to attend the public hearing.
Unlike other advocacy groups on the North Coast, such as Indivisible North Coast or Friends of the Astoria Waterfront, Responsible Growth Astoria has declined to identify a spokesperson. When The Astorian asked to interview one of the organizers last week and talk in more detail about the group’s concerns, a reporter was told the people best poised to talk about the group were on vacation.
A response from Responsible Growth Astoria via Facebook Messenger expressed the hope that the group’s concerns about Grocery Outlet would be the focus of any reporting, not the identity of the group.
In response to further questions from The Astorian on Tuesday, a man named “Ken J.,” who said he manages the Responsible Growth Astoria Facebook page, said the Astoria and Lake Stevens groups are not linked.
Perhaps when the Astoria page was started “they looked for examples and borrowed from other sources on Facebook with similar issues — perhaps too liberally from the looks of it,” the man wrote in an email.
Others have also tried to identify the organizers.
“Please identify yourselves so we don’t assume you are a professional PR company hired to sow discontent over the proposed use,” Moore wrote in a comment on one of Responsible Growth Astoria’s posts this week. “Astoria doesn’t need outside agencies stirring up controversy. We are capable of that on our own.”
Moore said in an interview that he does not have any trouble with someone objecting to a business like Grocery Outlet. But he has observed the rapid expansion of Grocery Outlet across the country, as well as the organized opposition that usually follows. Though there are concerns in the community about the project, he doubts a local person is behind Responsible Growth Astoria.
Moore has interacted with a number of local, organized groups during his time on the Planning Commission. The people show up to meetings, state their names and addresses and give testimony or present petitions, he said.
“They’re happy to put their name on something they believe in and I fully support that,” he said. “But when an anonymous person tells me what’s best for my town, I generally don’t take that well.”
Moore’s Facebook comments were later removed and he can no longer comment on Responsible Growth Astoria’s posts.
Later, Responsible Growth Astoria wrote in a different post, “Thank you for your support in helping us grow this page and in giving a voice to hundreds who live here who simply do not like the direction our community and growth is going.”
“And for the online trolls and bullies out there trying to goad us into publicly listing everyone who supports the page and who has concerns about this project,” the post continues, “we respect privacy and aren’t about to create a list of people for you or the city or the developer to harass simply for speaking out.”