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'McWar' Erupts Over Planned Glassell Park Eatery

Councilman Garcetti sides with residents who say there are too many fast-food stands in the area. But the proposal has its supporters.

March 15, 2003|George Ramos | Times Staff Writer

Alisa Smith says her 11- and 14-year-old sons don't ask her to stop at McDonald's when they pass the golden arches, and she wouldn't anyway.

"I don't rely on fast food for my children's nourishment," the Glassell Park design consultant said.

Amid slumping profits, the closing of several hundred restaurants across the country and the slashing of prices, McDonald's -- the world's largest restaurant chain -- has even run into tough times in the northeast Los Angeles community of Glassell Park.

Smith and other residents have banded together in the Glassell Park Improvement Assn. to oppose the construction of a McDonald's restaurant with drive-through service in the 3900 block of Eagle Rock Boulevard.

In a recent association vote, 82% of the group's members present said they opposed the proposed outlet. The group has 470 members.

They have enlisted Councilman Eric Garcetti, who agrees with the residents that there are too many fast-food restaurants in the area.

Some argue that there are as many as 60 fast-food restaurants, including seven McDonald's, within a three-mile radius of the proposed site, which is an empty lot.

Glassell Park has its "undue share" of fast-food restaurants and "has taken on a greater burden," Garcetti said.

"My philosophy is to check in with neighborhood groups first. The 9-1 margin of opposition is important."

Tony Scudellari, president of the improvement association, said the resistance to another McDonald's would end if the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company decided to build a sit-down family restaurant, citing another association vote that showed an overwhelming majority would favor such an alternative.

Another McDonald's "would lessen the opportunity for having a greater diversity of businesses in the area," Scudellari said. "We need more sit-down restaurants in Glassell Park."

McDonald's does have some area support.

Longtime resident Ruby de Vera, vice chairwoman of the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council, said there was little opposition when McDonald's first broached the idea of an Eagle Rock Boulevard location three years ago.

The project was approved by a design review committee, an advisory citizens group that had no problems with it, De Vera said. The group's 15-member board has not taken a position on the fast-food restaurant.

"This has been very frustrating" because opposition appeared only after Scudellari and others recently assumed leadership roles in the improvement association, De Vera said, adding that McDonald's "has been a great partner for community cleanups and other civic activities."

Scudellari denied that he has spurred on the opposition.

The proposal never came up in the past, and it became a topic for discussion last fall only after it became clear that a growing number of residents and others were concerned about the proposed restaurant's drive-through hours, he said.

"Also, it was never brought before the public until McDonald's had to apply for a conditional-use permit for the restaurant," Scudellari said.

Officials at McDonald's offices in Woodland Hills did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment on the proposed Glassell Park restaurant.

The company is seeking the permit with proposed drive-through hours of 5 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays and 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

A Los Angeles zoning administrator held a public hearing in late October on the proposal, but has yet to issue a decision. Because of a delay in getting an updated environmental clearance, city officials said a second public hearing will be held. No date has been set, however.

In the meantime, although some in Glassell Park are aware of the dispute, still others don't understand what the local "McWar" is about.

On a recent afternoon, Lydia McNamara and her son, Aaron, 7, considered the dispute while lunching on burgers at a Jack-in-the-Box on Eagle Rock Boulevard, less than half a mile from the proposed site. She couldn't understand the fuss, seeing as there are more than 30,000 McDonald's restaurants worldwide.

"Why shouldn't there be one here?" she asked. "If there's one in Rome, Tokyo and even Mexico [City], there ought to be one here too."

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