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LOS ANGELES -- The New York Times reported today that Los Angeles is making one of the nation’s most radical food policies permanent by effectively banning new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a huge section of the city that has significantly higher rates of poverty and obesity than other neighborhoods.
Although a handful of much smaller cities have passed similar restrictions for primarily aesthetic reasons, Los Angeles officials claim their fast-food ban is the first to do so as part of a public health effort. The regulations, which the City Council passed unanimously last month, are meant to encourage healthier neighborhood dining options. Supporters believe the new law will result in more sit-down restaurants, produce-filled grocery stores and takeout meals that center on salad rather than fries.
The regulations are not quite an outright ban, The Times points out; existing restaurants can remain open, and exceptions are made for those opening inside a shopping center. Many mom-and-pop businesses or casual restaurants that serve equally "unhealthy" food can also get permits to open, according to the report.
Since the City Council enacted a one-year moratorium in 2008, no new freestanding fast-food restaurants have opened in the area. City officials have been fighting accusations of trying to be "the food police" and say they are simply applying land-use laws to limit fast-food establishments the way other communities do with bars and liquor stores.
Nevertheless, a spokesman for the California Restaurant Association noted that the limits set a "troubling precedent" and could discourage any potential owner from opening any kind of food business in the area.
Other food advocacy groups are pushing for more cities, including Detroit and Philadelphia to enact similar limits, which so far, don’t specifically ban convenience stores. However, a 2009 study by the RAND Corporation based in Santa Monica, Calif., advised policy-makers to focus on snacks sold at gas stations and convenience stores instead of fast food joints.
The Times article went on to illustrate how the fast-food ban might do little to change eating habits, pointing to a packed Carl’s Jr. burger chain in the area where teenagers were chowing down on large bacon-cheeseburgers. One mother told the paper, "This is a fun thing for them and easy for me, so how can I not come at least once a week or something like that? When you’re out, you are just going to look for the first decent thing around. If there are fewer of them, fine by me, but we’re still going to go to the ones we’ve got now."