Fast-Food Ban Proposed in South Los Angeles

In South Los Angeles, where 30 percent of adults are obese, activists and lawmakers are pointing to one possible cause: few dining-out choices except for fast-food restaurants. Now, City Council member Jan Perry has proposed a two-year ban on opening new fast-food restaurants in South L.A.

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If you live in south Los Angeles, these numbers from the city's health department are alarming. Thirty percent of adults are obese. That's 10 percent more than in the rest of the county. Also, there are more obese children and a higher level of diabetes than anywhere else in Los Angeles.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports now that local activists and lawmakers point to one possible cause - south L.A. has few eating choices except for fast-food outlets.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: So here we are On the corner of Slauson and Vermont.

Mr. MARQUEECE HARRIS-DAWSON (Executive Director, Community Coalition): Mm-hmm.

DEL BARCO: And we can see El Pollo Loco on one corner, McDonald's on the other corner. Taco Bell, Pizza Hut on the third corner. And a Kentucky Fried Chicken and something called Wing Works(ph) across the street, too.

Mr. HARRIS-DAWSON: And a Quiznos over there you can't see because of the bus.

DEL BARCO: Marqueece Harris-Dawson is executive director of the Community Coalition, a grassroots organization in south L.A. He points out that the mostly black and Latino low-income area has few grocery stores or farmers' markets, few mom and pop sit-down restaurants, few healthy food alternatives.

Mr. HARRIS-DAWSON: I go to McDonald's in this neighborhood and try to order a salad, and they don't serve salads. So it's very, very difficult to make good eating choices when you're in this type of landlocked situation.

Unidentified Woman#1: How can I help you?

Mr. FRANK ALFARO(ph) (Construction Worker): The 10 pieces, and what else you have?

Unidentified Woman#1: The 14 piece, three side orders, six biscuits.

DEL BARCO: Construction worker Frank Alfaro and his mother, Lilian(ph), often find themselves at the drive-thru windows of the ubiquitous franchises that line the bus routes and major boulevards of south L.A.

LILIAN (Resident, South Los Angeles): Too much junk food around. They don't have regular restaurants, healthy food, only fast food. So it's fat…

Mr. ALFARO: Food. And they're making me fat.

LILIAN: And they make you fat.

DEL BARCO: The city of L.A. already bans candy, soda and other high fat snacks from public school vending machines. Now, city council member Jan Perry is taking it one step further. She's proposed a two-year ban on opening any more fast-food restaurants in south L.A.

Ms. JAN PERRY (Los Angeles City Council Member): To create choices, healthy food choices, which is something that we do not have now.

DEL BARCO: Perry says the ban would allow time to try to attract more full-service restaurants.

Ms. PERRY: Where food is prepared at request, food is prepared to the customers' needs and in liking, waiting on tables. The things that you would find in other parts of the city that you don't necessarily find in south L.A.

DEL BARCO: So any new restaurant that wants to come in to the area would have to be approved or not approved?

Ms. PERRY: Correct. It allows me, as the elected official for the area, the opportunity to have greater hands on as to what comes into the area.

DEL BARCO: Using zoning laws to encourage good habits is nothing new, says David Sloane, a professor at USC School of Policy, Planning.

Dr. DAVID SLOANE (Dissertation Chair, School of Policy, Planning, and Development, University of South California): Fast food is more and more seen by many people as a nuisance. And nuisances have been regulated by governments for centuries. The same kind of thinking as how we move towards regulating smoking, when we decided it was a nuisance. It was a danger.

DEL BARCO: Who decides what is a nuisance?

Dr. SLOANE: It's funny because - in some sense, it's the government, right? And then it's the courts decide whether it's a constitutional nuisance. But to some extent, it's also the people.

DEL BARCO: The people with the help of council member Jan Perry, in this case. Her proposed moratorium, which is up for a vote this fall, would also offer incentives to attract affordable and more healthy eateries to the area.

Joanne Kim(ph) of the Community Coalition says she hopes that works because so far, bringing in those kinds of businesses has proven difficult.

Ms. JOANNE KIM (Community Coalition): Who wants to open up shop next to the liquor store where dead bodies are showing up? There's shootings on a regular basis. There's violence and nuisances and blight everywhere. So why would a business want to come in and open up shop next to it? And that is the responsibility of the city, how land is used in this community.

DEL BARCO: Kim says she's happy that the city is also taking a look at liquor stores and pay-by-the-hour motels that are also magnets for problems in the city. She's concerned that only the bigger franchises have swooped in to south L.A. to offer cheap and convenient restaurants.

UNIDENTIFIED CLERK: May I help the next customer?

DEL BARCO: At El Polo Loco, customer Christina Hernandez says she thinks it's a good idea to limit the number of future fast-food spots. But she wonders if it could cost more.

Ms. CHRISTINA HERNANDEZ: One of the main reason people use fast-food places so much is because it's cheap and it's fast. So working class people have a limited amount of money. So you also have to consider the next step, which is maybe - I don't know, cafeterias, where they have healthier food at affordable prices.

DEL BARCO: And at the drive-thru Taco Bell, Randall Walters(ph) and Jay Stone(ph) say they'll only be happy if they can continue getting fed at all hours.

Mr. RANDALL WALTERS (Resident, South Los Angeles): Tell them more 24 hour and healthier restaurants. How about that? Subway, 24 hours more.

Mr. JAY STONE (Resident, South Los Angeles): (Unintelligible)

DEL BARCO: And that's healthier?

Mr. STONE: And that's healthier…

Mr. WALTERS: Subway is healthier than this.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

Mr. WALTERS: Two soft tacos, no lettuce. And one regular taco.

Unidentified Woman #2: Would you like anything to drink?

Mr. WALTERS: No, ma'am.

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