South Los Angeles Halts Fast Food Expansion

Discussion
Aug 14, 2008

By Tom Ryan

While some cities are pushing for calorie counts on restaurant menus or banning trans fat, South Los Angeles is taking more drastic measures to help its chubby residents. The local city council voted last week to place a moratorium on new fast food restaurants for one year. The move is designed to provide time for legislators to attract restaurants serving healthier food.

Thirty percent of adults in South Los Angeles area are obese, compared to 19.1 percent for the metropolitan area of Los Angeles and 14.1 percent for the affluent Westside, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. A separate report by the Community Health Councils found 73 percent of South Los Angeles restaurants were fast food, compared to 42 percent in West Los Angeles.

Councilwoman Jan Perry told The Associated Press that residents have complained about their limited options outside fast food at recent community meetings, but many don’t have cars to drive to regions with more choices.

As part of the moratorium, the city is offering incentives to attract more restaurants serving healthier food. Perks include assistance finding real estate, low-interest loans, matching funds for burying utility lines, discounted electricity rates, and tax credits.

The moratorium, which can be extended up to a year, only affects stand-alone restaurants, not those in malls or strip centers. Exempted from the ordinance are “fast-food casual” restaurants (e.g., El Pollo Loco, Subway, Pastagina) that don’t have drive-through windows or heat lamps and prepare fresh food to order.

Research shows that while cost remains a key factor in poor communities, people will change eating habits when different foods are offered, said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

“Cheap, unhealthy food and lack of access to healthy food is a recipe for obesity,” said Mr. Brownell. “Diets improve when healthy food establishments enter these neighborhoods.”

The California Restaurant Association said it may consider legal action against the ordinance. Representatives of fast-food chains believe they are being unfairly targeted since many have significantly expanded the amount of healthier items on their menus.

“It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat,” Andrew Puzder, president and chief executive of CKE Restaurants, parent company of Carl’s Jr.

Discussion questions: What do you think of South LA’s one-year ban on fast food chains? Do you see other cities putting more restrictions on fast food chains? What implications might this have for retailers?

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22 Comments on "South Los Angeles Halts Fast Food Expansion"


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Alison Keney
Guest
Alison Keney
13 years 9 months ago

Another misguided attempt at social manipulation by bureaucrats who want to feel good about themselves despite accomplishing nothing of substance. It’s ironic that they want to ban new McDonald’s–where I can eat a substantial and balanced meal for under 500 calories–but lure sit-down chains like Islands or Outback, where it is virtually impossible to order a single entree that’s less than 800 calories (and ‘appetizers’ can top 2,000). Bravo!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
13 years 9 months ago

Gosh, I may be stupid but when I grew up people cooked at home. Maybe the “GOVERNMENT” in south LA should teach people to cook. No, they would rather try and blackmail mid scale sit downs into opening outlets in areas that represent a poor investment for their concepts. I would encourage these chains to resist any pressure. This is exactly what happened to banks when do-gooder politicians encouraged them to make loans to people who normally couldn’t qualify for a loan. That was what started the lending frenzy that ultimately led to the collapse of the housing market and the destruction of the home loan business.

Kai Clarke
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

Having the government dictate which restaurants should open and where they should be opening is incredibly naive. The issue isn’t about the restaurants, but the people who they serve. It is not the restaurants who determine what people eat. This solution requires more education, not stopping the business growth of restaurants.

James Nuckolls
Guest
James Nuckolls
13 years 9 months ago

This is not going to change anything. However, it might be a good time to invest in snack foods. I can envision a spike in Doritos and Hostess products.

Michael Murphy, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Murphy, Ph.D.
13 years 9 months ago

I doubt that this will have much influence on how people eat, but I applaud the initiative in trying to get something done to help people be more healthy and place restraints on huge companies who see nothing wrong with providing unhealthy products to consumers.

We’ve got health warnings on cigarettes. Why not on unhealthy food?

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 9 months ago

Is this really about personal freedom, or a city trying to be proactive in the health of its citizens? I personally see nothing wrong with this program provided there are incentives offered for “healthy” restaurants to open instead.

The truth is, though, people will do what people want. And sometime a Big Mac really does taste a whole lot better than a salad.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
13 years 9 months ago

Having done a site study for Jack in the Box in South Central LA several years ago, I can attest that there are few options for food in that area beyond fast food and convenience stores.

The question I pose is, is it really about personal choice when your options are so extremely limited? I certainly don’t have the answers but at least they are trying something.

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

Al, you asked who has a better idea, and I think perhaps Michael Murphy does: education and even warning labels on food that can cause harm if eaten to excess. A generation ago, about half the people in this country smoked cigarettes, myself included. Now it’s a fraction of that, based on relentless consumer education and those little warnings on cigarette packs. This would require study, but it seems like a whole lot better idea than what they’re trying to do in California.

Colin Jephson
Guest
Colin Jephson
13 years 9 months ago
Some contributors insist that nothing should be allowed to diminish the rights of citizens to make their own choices. Who can disagree with that? On the other hand there is a real problem here – and wherever “western” diets prevail – which legislators cannot wash their hands of. Some say that it is a matter of personal freedom; but that’s baloney! No one chooses to be obese! Individuals who use fast food restaurants are not exercising their rights; they are hooked! Everyone knows what a healthy, balanced diet is. Everyone knows that too many burgers and fries are not good for you. When you see someone waiting in line at McDonald’s who looks as if he is one Big Mac away from a heart attack, you think he wants to be there? You think he doesn’t know? We can tell him a thousand times that he should take responsibility for his own health but he’s given up listening. Maybe he has given up caring. It is most unlikely that he can change his eating habits… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

Given that the LA fast food location freeze is aimed at the poor, the most direct approach would be to raise sales taxes on fast food. For example, in New York City, the sales tax applies to restaurants, but not most groceries. What would happen to fast food demand if the sales tax was 25%? Given the huge popularity of dollar menus, it’s clear that higher prices would reduce fast food sales immediately. Alcohol taxes hurt liquor and beer consumption. Why not junk food?

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
13 years 9 months ago

I don’t agree with this. This is about personal responsibility. People need to decide their own health issues and if someone wants to eat foods high in fat, that is their decision. I don’t see this as the government’s job to tell people where and what they should eat.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
13 years 9 months ago

This sounds a lot like the ban on Drug Stores selling smoking products in San Francisco. There are some “exceptions” in this legislation that scream discrimination and allow “fast food casual” a hall pass, while banning fast food drive through. I doubt this idea will have the impact that L.A. believes will come about as a result of their “targeted” penalties on traditional fast food chains.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
13 years 9 months ago

This will do nothing to reduce obesity, it simply reduces choice. Instead of having the opportunity to choose between Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s, In and Out Burger, Pizza Hut, Del Taco, Taco Bell, they will only be able to choose from McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. How will this reduce obesity? It won’t. The residents will simply eat the same food, at the same restaurants. Reducing the choice will not force people to eat more healthy. It is a silly attempt at fixing the problem.

Warren Thayer
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

A condescending, paternalistic Band-Aid when a systemic, non-arbitrary response is called for.

Steve Bramhall
Guest
Steve Bramhall
13 years 9 months ago

I don’t agree with this either. People eat fast food because they want to. If you wanted to eat healthy food and keep costs down and didn’t have a car, you would prepare healthy food at home. The onus is on the individual to make the right choices not blame someone else. If the demand was there for healthy food outlets, the existing healthy food restaurants would be growing and incentives would not really be needed to attract new restaurateurs. The existing fast food outlets must be rubbing their hands with glee.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

I think what the city is doing is well meaning and they have good intentions. However, it will be very difficult to attract the businesses they want. This is obviously an undesirable area and the city should be grateful that any business would choose to open there. Next they will want to get rid of all the payday loan stores.

The city could provide some incentives they might not have thought of yet. How about any new restaurant that serves healthy food be declared a sales tax free zone? That probably won’t happen. Most likely, the kinds of restaurants that the city wants not only don’t want to open there, you couldn’t pay them to open there regardless of the incentives offered.

This new moratorium might not even have any effect at all. I wonder just how hard McDonald’s is beating down the door to open there in the first place.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

It’s not going to help. At any rate, there’s enough fast food in L.A. already to keep an army of sumo wrestlers pleasantly stuffed for eternity. Oh…other commentators are right…it is horribly paternalistic.

Tonia Key
Guest
Tonia Key
13 years 9 months ago
I think it will help. What the local government needs to do is to tell people the kinds of eateries that they’d like to see. Here in NYC, the variety of food available has changed drastically in the last seven years. You were pretty much stuck with fast food, Chinese food or a sandwich from a deli. Then, a deli on 34th near Madison Avenue started making these tossed salads mixing in all the ingredients and dressing in big bowls. They began having lines of people waiting for these tossed salads. Now seven years later, delis all over the city offer tossed salads along with their traditional sandwiches. Many delis sell more salads than they do sandwiches. Many delis here in New York also have mini to large buffet areas. The buffets started downtown and spread to a lot of delis but it’s nothing like the spread of salads. I’ve been working over 20 years and have watched many things change. Sometimes change happens naturally, like here in NYC. Other times it has to be… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
13 years 9 months ago

Perhaps the moratorium isn’t the greatest idea, but I think the idea of providing incentives for restaurants offering additional dining choices is a good one. Steering consumers to healthier choices and businesses towards offering them is something governments of all types do all the time. With the problem of obesity rates such as those cited in the article, who has a better idea?

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 9 months ago

I agree with Ryan — who needs more fast food restaurants in South Chicago?? There are plenty!

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
13 years 8 months ago

Yes I think every fast food restaurant not built will save thousands of pounds of obesity. On the other hand, the replacement ideas of healthy probably aren’t that good either and may well add back as many pounds lost. The message is correct, though.

Michael Baker
Guest
Michael Baker
13 years 8 months ago

This is not actually all about personal responsibility. It’s also about access and cost. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that healthy food is generally more expensive than junk (who wouldn’t shop at Whole Foods if they could afford it) and is also generally more accessible in wealthier neighbourhoods.

If you’re willing to concede that at least the intention of the ordinance is honourable (even if the actual ordinance is ineffectual) then what are the alternatives?

It seems to me that a market-based approach would be best, similar to the approaches to dealing with pollution and cigarettes. If you think of junk food as a pollution/narcotic that costs society a lot of money (e.g. health care costs to deal with all the quadruple bypasses) then why not tax the hell out of it and make people pay the true cost to society and to themselves?

The tax revenues could be recycled into vouchers that could only be cashed in at “healthy” outlets. And education programs.

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