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Panel OKs fast-food curbs

Council committee backs a one-year ban in South L.A. on new such restaurants. Aim is to boost health.

July 23, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

A proposal that would place at least a one-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a broad swath of neighborhoods, mostly in South Los Angeles, won unanimous support from a Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday.

If approved by the full council and signed by the mayor, the law would prevent fast-food chains from opening new restaurants in a 32-square-mile area, including West Adams, Baldwin Village and Leimert Park. The moratorium would be in effect for one year, with the possibility of two six-month extensions.

The measure, proposed by Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose 9th District includes much of South Los Angeles, defines a fast-food restaurant as "any establishment which dispenses food for consumption on or off the premises, and which has the following characteristics: a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders and food served in disposable wrapping or containers."

Councilman Jose Huizar questioned that definition during the meeting of the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee and requested clarification from city planners -- particularly the definition of a "limited menu" -- before the proposal goes before the council.

"McDonald's has been increasing the number of items on their menu, so at what point would they exceed that definition?" Huizar said.

Councilman Jack Weiss said restrictions on fast-food restaurants in Westwood have caused problems for such businesses as Ben & Jerry's and Smoothie King, which would not otherwise be considered fast-food outlets.

Restaurant lobbyists initially opposed the law. But Andrew Casana, a lobbyist for the Sacramento-based California Restaurant Assn., said his group is working with Perry and other council members and is waiting to see how they define fast food and plan to deal with lots that remain vacant after the law expires.

Perry said that after speaking with restaurant lobbyists, she amended her proposal to allow for "fast-food casual" restaurants, such as Subway or Pastagina, that do not have heat lamps or drive-through windows and that prepare fresh food to order.

Perry said she has been attempting to address the health issues associated with fast food, such as diabetes and obesity. She is trying to persuade supermarket chains and sit-down restaurants to open in her district, which has been especially hard hit with such health problems.

The Community Redevelopment Agency is offering grocers and restaurants incentives that include tax credits, electricity discounts and expedited reviews by the city Planning Department and Building and Safety Department.

"It's important to offer incentives to bring restaurants into an area, especially an area that has suffered prejudices and stereotypes," Perry said.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, whose entire 8th District is within the affected area, attended Tuesday's meeting and expressed support for the proposed law.

Huizar called for the city to do more to combat pervasive junk food advertising by educating children in South L.A. about healthy eating.

Julia Ansley, 66, a retired elementary school teacher who has lived in South L.A. more than 40 years, attended the meeting and said afterward that she was encouraged by the vote. "It's much needed," she said of the proposed ordinance. "Our community has been neglected by city planners."

In April, the county Department of Public Health released a study showing that 30% of South Los Angeles adults were obese, compared with about 21% of adults countywide. South L.A. also has the highest incidence of diabetes in the county, 11.7% compared with 8.1% for the county as a whole.

A Times analysis of the city's roughly 8,200 restaurants late last year found that South L.A. had the highest concentration of fast-food eateries. Per capita, the area has fewer eateries of any kind than the Westside, downtown or Hollywood, and about the same as the Valley. But a much higher percentage of restaurants in South L.A. belong to fast-food chains, and the area has far fewer grocery stores than other parts of town.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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