South Los Angeles is struggling to attract business, especially family restaurants, yet the City Council is taking up a ban on new fast-food outlets. When does it make sense to put up yet another City Hall roadblock to business, especially in an area that is struggling economically? This is when it makes sense:
* When the area suffers from a historic lack of the kind of planning ordinances and design guidelines that govern traffic flow, development and general livability in places such as Westwood and Pacific Palisades.
* When the failure of the planning process leads to such a concentration of drive-throughs -- with their garish signage, cookie-cutter design, street-fronting parking lots and idling cars -- that it dissuades supermarkets and other businesses from locating nearby.
* When developers and investors mentally write off the area for anything other than fast-food franchises, figuring that residents must want them or there wouldn't be so many.
* When the city's economic geography, politics and practice create a self-perpetuating business wasteland and catch-as-catch-can projects that never match the aspirations of its neglected populace.
Some, including Councilwoman Jan Perry, author of the motion to ban new fast-food outlets in South Los Angeles, also claim that better health will result from an end to their proliferation. We don't find that to be the best argument; the design of the building and the speed at which a meal is prepared need not have a direct relationship to its wholesomeness. But having limited retail space devoted to broader choices -- a sit-down restaurant, say, rather than a choice between the drive-through burger place with the crown or the one with the arches -- may well make a difference.
This page holds fast to the conviction that market forces are the indispensable ingredient in determining the best use of land. But it would be an insult to the people of South Los Angeles to tell them that they, and they alone, must be subject to decisions by developers and franchisees. Yes, residents there eat a lot of fast food -- because that's what's there. If other parts of town lost their specific plans, their design guidelines, their preservation zones and other protections that for decades have set high standards for quality of life and for property values, they too might find fewer sit-down restaurants and more burger and fried chicken joints.
One community has as much right as another to guide its appearance, its use and its development. The City Council should move forward with this plan to allow people who live south of the Santa Monica Freeway the opportunity to shape their neighborhoods.