Food Police Ban New Fast Food Restaurants in South L.A.
posted at 3:22 pm on December 11, 2010 by Howard Portnoy
The road to hell, famous for being paved with good intentions, has been diverted to run through South Los Angeles. This past week, the L.A. City Council voted to ban new stand-alone fast food restaurants from opening within half a mile of one another in that community.
South L.A., should the name fail to register, used to be called “South Central.” It was a handle that carried the unfortunate connotations of urban decay and street crime. The gang violence and poverty that were woven into the fabric of daily life were memorialized in rap songs and movies such as Ice Cube’s Dead Homiez.
But the City Council strove to change all that in 2003. The community that had spawned the Bloods and the Crips was given a new name and, it was hoped, a sanitized image. And while the city elders stopped short of erecting billboards with the message “Come Vacation in Scenic South L.A.,” they did make inroads into altering the neighborhood’s bad rep, revitalizing sections of the sprawling community.
And now the City Council has taken another step toward saving South L.A. from itself by saying no to more fast food on behalf of its constituents. Citing the statistic that 70 percent of food currently sold in the community is “fast,” Councilmember Jan Perry defended the ban, stating:
This is not an attempt to control people as to what they can put into their mouths. This is an attempt to diversify their food options.
But to the disinterested observer it appears that controlling what people “put into their mouths” is precisely what the City Council is doing.
Apart from the nanny-state tactics implicit in this proposal, the ordinance itself creates two legal problems. One relates to the notion of free enterprise, the other to the laws of supply and demand.
With respect to free enterprise, the City Council is intruding into any would-be fast food franchisee’s constitutional right to open a business wherever he chooses, provided it doesn’t interfere with local zoning laws. Councilwoman Perry’s own comments reveal that commercial zoning laws are not what’s at issue:
When we talk to our community members and the people that we were elected to represent, the one thing that we hear over and over and over again is: ‘We need more grocery stores, we need more restaurants, we need more choices, we are tired of the choices that have been given to this community.’
In short, businesses—including restaurants—are welcome, even desired, by residents of the community.
As to supply and demand, the residents of South L.A. can complain all they want about the “choices that have been given to this community” and wish for alternatives to fast food. Unless the City Council can devise a method for forcing investors to open eateries with tablecloths and waiters, the locals will simply have to make do with the hand they have been dealt or cook at home.
In addition, the fact that more fast food franchisees are seeking to open restaurants in South L.A. despite the ostensible over-saturation of that market suggests that fast food is what many South Angelinos want. What business is it of the City Council to tell them they can’t have it?
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