Jodi Helmer
March 1, 2011

Fast food

Courtesy Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock

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In order to fight food deserts and make room for healthy food options, South Los Angeles now limits the building of new fast-food restaurants.

There’s no shortage of fast-food restaurants in South City of Angels. On the contrary: The City Council estimates that there are close to 1,000 fast-food restaurants in a 30-square-mile area of South L.A. Thanks to the City Council’s efforts, however, it’s about to get harder to find a double cheeseburger and a side of fries in South Los Angeles. A new ordinance has been passed to prevent any more fast-food chains from firing up their fryers in the district.

“South L.A. is very densely populated, and there isn’t a lot of land left available to be developed,” explains Jan Perry, councilwoman for the ninth council district, who pushed for the restrictions. “We wanted to address the food-desert issues by ensuring the land that’s available is set aside for its highest and best use, and that includes supermarkets, casual dining restaurants and other healthy food options.”

The ordinance is not a full-fledged ban on fast-food restaurants. Existing burger joints, taco stands and donut shops will be unaffected. New fast food restaurants will be impacted instead.

Under the ordinance, which received the unanimous approval of the Planning and Land Management Committee in December 2010, new fast-food restaurants cannot be constructed within a 1/2-mile radius of existing fast-food restaurants and need to meet stringent design guidelines for their building applications to be processed. The guidelines apply to stand-alone restaurants, not those located in mixed-use projects.

According to Perry, the City Council wanted to pass the ordinance to address the imbalance of food options in the neighborhood and pave the way for new grocery stores, farmers’ markets and restaurants serving healthier fare to set up shop in South Los Angeles.

“We wanted to send a strong message that the community in South L.A. is not just actively interested in a broad array of food choices but will support them in word and in deed,” Perry says.

It appears to be working.

Although the ordinance was officially adopted in December, the City Council enacted a temporary moratorium in 2008. Since then, no new fast-food restaurants have opened in the neighborhood. Instead, South L.A. got its first new grocery stores in more than a decade, including Fresh and Easy, a market that sells local, organic produce.

Changes are happening at the area farmers’ markets, too. Through the efforts of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, a community development organization, the Central Avenue Farmers’ Market became the first market in the region to accept Women, Infants and Children (WIC) checks, increasing access to fresh, local foods for neighborhood residents.

“We have already attracted new sit-down restaurants, full-service grocery stores and healthy food alternatives, and we need to continue to do so in an aggressive manner. Ultimately, this action is about providing choices—something that is currently lacking in our community,” Perry said in a press release.

Perry is also working in partnership with Healthy Eating Active Communities, an organization working to prevent childhood obesity by transforming children’s living environments, to provide makeovers of mini-marts and convenience stores in South Los Angeles. As part of the program, mini-markets are encouraged to change their store layouts to move junk foods, such as chips and chocolate, to the back of the store, opening up space at the front of the store to incorporate fresh food items like fruits, veggies and milk.

“As elected officials, the more we can do to sustain economic development that, as a corollary, helps people make healthier choices, the better,” Perry says.

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