Children play during an exercise and dance period at the Hoover Intergenerational… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
Los Angeles County supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday that requires new developments to have wider sidewalks, bicycle parking and other changes to promote exercise and reduce obesity.
The ordinance also would make it easier for communities to start community gardens and hold farmers markets.
"We are excited," said Susan Tae, the county's supervising regional planner. "This is the first step to address the healthier-built environment at the countywide level."
The ordinance, which affects unincorporated areas of the county, expands sidewalk widths to five feet, requires bicycle parking within developments and increases shade on sidewalks.
The supervisors also passed a motion that directs more research and design on making the county more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.
"We are trying to send a very clear message to every county department that if we are going to start making a difference, everyone has to work together," said Ben Saltsman, planning deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "Obesity rates go up where people have no choice but to get in the car. Wider sidewalks and bike lanes will help give people another option."
The ordinance comes out of an effort begun two years ago by Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Don Knabe.
Public health officials, who worked with the planning department on the ordinance, said it's important to have the changes codified by policymakers.
"We can talk until we are blue in the face about eating healthier and the need to exercise more, but if they don't have an environment that supports that, it is going to be harder for that to happen," said Suzanne Bogert, who directs obesity prevention for the county Department of Public Health.
Community health leaders said they were pleased that the county has begun to look at the issue of how the environment affects health, but that the ordinance doesn't go far enough.
For example, the ordinance doesn't include anything about fast-food restaurants, said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils Inc. in South Los Angeles.
"I really do think a more comprehensive look at health and how the planning department can support the building of healthier communities is critical," she said. "It can't be piecemeal."