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LA official wants fast-food spots off the menu

Councilor pushes for moratorium on new openings

There are more fast-food restaurant chains in South Los Angeles than in other sections of the city. There are more fast-food restaurant chains in South Los Angeles than in other sections of the city. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/File 2007)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Karl Vick
Washington Post / July 14, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Citing alarming rates of childhood obesity and a poverty of healthful eating choices, a city councilor is pushing for a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in South-Central Los Angeles.

"Some people will say, 'Well, people just don't have to eat it,' " said Jan Perry, the Democrat who represents the city's overwhelmingly African-American and Latino District 9. "But the fact of the matter is, what if you have no other choices?"

The proposed ordinance, which is awaiting a committee hearing, takes a page from boutique communities that turn up their noses at franchises.

It is supported by nutritionists, frustrated residents, and community activists who call restrictive zoning an appropriate response to "food apartheid."

"There's one set of food for one part of the city, another set of food for another part of the city, and it's very stratified that way," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, executive director of Community Coalition, based in South-Central.

The activist group has focused on land use in the economically depressed neighborhoods south of downtown, working to shut 200 liquor stores and a dozen motels on the premise that "nuisance businesses" encourage violence and crime while crowding out wholesome alternatives.

Proposed moves against fast food have drawn criticism from the California Restaurant Association.

The trade group last week filed suit against San Francisco for requiring some chain restaurants to list calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sodium on their menus.

In Los Angeles, what alarmed the trade group was Perry's use of the words "moratorium" and "obesity."

"You know, that powerful language does a lot of damage to the industry," said lobbyist Andrew Casana. He said the terms might no longer be appropriate after Perry revised the language to permit chains such as Marie Callender's.

"You can't play the obesity card and then invite in a place that sells pies," Casana said.

The fresh, healthful fare that defines "California cuisine" remains almost impossible to find on a gritty landscape of corner takeout stores and franchises.

"You try to get a salad within 20 minutes of our location; it's virtually impossible," said Harris-Dawson.

Perry quoted research showing that although 16 percent of restaurants in prosperous West LA serve fast food, the same percentage is 45 percent in South LA.

Advocates see an obvious link to a Health Department study that found that 29 percent of South-Central children are obese, compared with 23 percent countywide.

"I was working in one of these places before: It was french fries, french fries, and french fries, and french fries," said Tony Dubon, 46. "They ought to offer a grape or something."

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