L.A.'s Circular (Drain of a) Political Culture

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously yesterday to ban new fast-food restaurants from serving the comparatively impoverished area of South Los Angeles (previously known to non-Angelenos as South-Central). In the impoversihed vocabulary of SoCal politics, it isn't a "ban," but rather a one-year "moratorium," which is the preferred method to introduce ever-stricter controls on what residents can do with their "private" property. (Previous moratoria have included banning the demolition or condo-conversion of downtown flophouses, the opening of new medical marijuana dispensaries, and the construction of homes on unused hillsides that had previously been zoned for, um, housing.) Explained one of the measure's chief backers, former LAPD chief-turned Councilman Bernard Parks, "Our communities have an extreme shortage of quality foods."

I can't begin to tell you what a losing battle it was trying to argue directly with L.A. "stakeholders" such as Parks during my two-year tenure at the L.A. Times that you can't reasonably expect to restrict your way into prosperity, let alone into getting your favorite chain stores installed nearby. In fact, I once took a three-hour tour (by mini-bus, not Minnow) of South L.A. with Parks and his staff, in which he'd point out the window and list off all the unseemly businesses he'd like to see move along. "Auto-related business, auto-related business, fried chicken restaurant, liquor store, small supermarket, fast-food restaurant," and so on. It was Parks' dream − one I share! − that major intersections be populated not by Popeye's, but by sit-down family restaurants, or at least a little taste of fast casual. But unlike Parks, I don't think it's good policy to punish the very businesses that were willing and able to serve maligned neighborhoods, in the hopes that clearing such space would serve as a magic wand to bring in the Trader Joe's of your dreams. (The lack of which, by the way, is held up as evidence of − wait for it! − "food apartheid.")

I exaggerate not a bit when I describe the prevailing politics of L.A. to be roughly as follows: Wal-Mart and big box stores = evil, and need to be stopped at all costs. Also, we need more cheap supermarkets! Mom and pop stores need to be defended from Big Corporations, unless they sell fried chicken or used tires, or get in the way of a big development project. We have an affordable housing crisis, which is why we need to raise property taxes, limit the footprint of houses on their lots, and bulldoze thousands of affordable houses to make way for schools that we don't need!

Actually, the worst evidence I ever saw of the latter was in my little bus tour with Parks. We'd go through lower-middle class neighborhood after lower-middle class neighborhood, where entire swaths of bungalows and palm trees had been flattened, often (as Parks complained bitterly) without the L.A. Unified School District ever really notifying the relevant local elected officials. (Bought-out homes and bulldozed property have a way of creating irreversible facts on the ground, as opponents to eminent domain have long known.) So he was sensitive to eminent domain abuse, and interestingly opposed (unlike most of L.A.'s political culture) to condo-conversion restrictions and even rent control.

I guess I should be happy that the concept of private residential property held at least some sway with an L.A. politician, but after enough of these moratoria you just kinda want to throw your hands up in despair.

UPDATE: Lousy L.A. Times editorial in support of the ban here. Not-quite-as-lousy L.A. Times editorial from a previous regime here.

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  • Nigel Watt||

    LA might be following Chicago's lead in legislating itself out of population.

  • Naga Sadow||

    So . . . was he basically saying his idea of what a neighborhood should look like was more important than what actual residents of the neighborhood could support?

  • Episiarch||

    "Auto-related business, auto-related business, fried chicken restaurant, liquor store, small supermarket, fast-food restaurant," and so on.

    WTF is wrong with an auto-related business or a small supermarket? There's nothing wrong with any of those places but I know the asshole objections to them. But small supermarkets? Oh noes, people can buy groceries on the same block they live on?

  • ||

    LA might be following Chicago's lead in legislating itself out of population.

    *Ahem* Detroit leads the way in government ineptitude resulting in precipitous population declines. We will not be slighted.

  • ||

    But small supermarkets? Oh noes, people can buy groceries on the same block they live on?

    I was thinking the same thing. A lot of communities that are looking for walkability and all that love the small supermarket! I think his problem with it was that it was probably immigrant owned or run-down looking instead of nice and posh.

  • Fluffy||

    There are no Indian restaurants in my town.

    The closest Indian restaurant is a 20 minute drive down the road and across a frickin' state line.

    But if I got my town to pass a law saying no new restaurants could open until after someone opened an Indian restaurant, do you know what that would make me?

    A dick.

  • Warty||

    Some of the paragraphs in that editorial have more than one sentence. That's how you can tell when the MSM is being intellectual.

  • Cool Cal||

    Apparently there is one Wal-Mart in Inglewood, and incidentally, it is a beautiful Art Deco building.

  • ||

    Fluffy -
    My town tried that except it was a "No more restaurants downtown until we get some retail"
    What a dumb thing to do. They lifted the moratorium and 4 more restaurants opened up almost immediately, and their tax base expanded, and more people were downtown.
    Imagine that!

  • Guy Montag||

    Matt,

    The real question is: Rats, more where you lived in L.A. than in D.C., or less?

  • douglas gray||

    What is the legal definition of a "fast food restauarant"? Or is it just up to the whim of a City official reviewing the application?

    We generally associate "fast food" with high fat meals such as burgers, fries, etc., but what if a place takes enough time, and has a few tables, so that it is no longer "fast," but mainly still serves that kind of food?

    Then again, you can have someone serve up salads and tofu pretty fast, mainly for takeout. Doesn't that make them "fast food?"

  • Matt Welch||

    Guy Montag -- There are more rats within 100 yards of my rowhouse in D.C. than there are west of the Rocky Mountains. There are more rats in D.C. then there are pages in the federal tax and criminal codes put together. There are more rats in D.C. than there are placards with the word "change" at an Obama rally. There are more rats here than polyps in John McCain's derma.

  • Hat Trick||

    As I understand it, "fast food" means "limited menu;" "served in disposable containers;" and "self serve." Pretty clear cut if you ask me.

  • Invisible Finger||

    What is the legal definition of a "fast food restauarant"?

    Proabably "without waitress service."

    How difficult is it to get a liquor license in LA? I assume most sit-down, waitress service joints want to sell at least beer and wine; fast-food places generally don't. The other laws in place might be most of the reason that only fast-food joints are the only places opening; and working-class 'hoods are generally the ones where they try to vote precincts dry.

  • T||

    As I understand it, "fast food" means "limited menu;" "served in disposable containers;" and "self serve." Pretty clear cut if you ask me.

    So my local Whataburger, which has staff bring my plastic tray of food after I sit down, doesn't meet that requirement. Ergo, Whataburger is not fast food! Plus, the food is served on a plastic tray, which is not disposable! Yay for Whataburger!

    Which, for those of you outside the range of Whataburger, is completely ludicrous. Write me a definition of fast food and I'll find a way to game the system so my McDonald's franchise doesn't qualify.

  • Jerry Seinfeld\'s Friend||

    "It's not fast food. It's good food quickly."

  • Hat Trick||

    Write me a definition of fast food and I'll find a way to game the system so my McDonald's franchise doesn't qualify.

    T, that was kind of my point. There is nothing that can be legislated that a firm can't legally skate around. Evanston IL (birthplace of prohibition) once tried to ban fast food by banning restaurants that didn't have table service. The downtown Burger King became the only (to my knowledge) location in the country that actually brought your Whopper to you.

  • ||

    But if I got my town to pass a law saying no new restaurants could open until after someone opened an Indian restaurant, do you know what that would make me?

    A dick.



    A dick who still has to drive twenty miles for a curry.

  • Fluffy||

    I like how the Times editorial nakedly asserts that South LA is "desperate" for additional non-fast-food restaurants.

    This would be fairly simple to prove, if true. All they'd have to do is look at the Chili's type chain sit-down restaurants in the area [there have to be some, since fast food restaurants are only 42% of the total] and see if those restaurants experience higher per-store sales than restaurants in other parts of town. If they don't, there isn't any "desperation".

  • ||

    Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has pushed for a moratorium for six years, said the initiative would give the city time to craft measures to lure sit-down restaurants serving healthier food to a part of the city that desperately wants more of them.



    Sounds like a great investment opportunity there, Jan. You've got potential customers that "desperately" want "sit-down restaurants serving healthier food".

    What could possibly go wrong? Mortgage your house, empty your savings, borrow from relatives and go for it. This libertarian will not begrudge the astronomical financial gains you will surely realize.

  • e||

    Rather than gimmicks like this, I'd suggest a heavy progressive tax (no one under $50000 pays any tax) and of course, zero sales tax. That would put enough money in peoples' pockets that the fancy retail would pay for itself in these neighborhoods.

    Either that or just take a billion out of the yearly Iraq war budget (Halliburton will hardly miss it) and have a massive revitalization/public transportation binge in LA. Same effect.

  • Douglas Gray||

    Exactly my point.........if fast food means quickly prepared and in take out containers, then there is no correlation between "fastness" and "healthy faire" which is what the busy body L. A. councilperson was complaining about.

    I say that L.A. councilpeople should get paid less that fast food workerss.

  • ||

    California in general, and LA in particular, must be a great place to live, given that it keeps attracting people and businesses despite what appears to be an out-of-control regulatory system.

  • ed||

    a great place to live...despite what appears to be an out-of-control regulatory system

    Don't forget the fires and earthquakes. And colorful gangs. And two (count 'em, two!) retarded menopausal senators! What's not to love?

  • ||

    What they really need is a law for more fine wine emporiums. Unfortunately, the people of south central have no access to fine French vintages and California's premium NAPA wines (secrect - most of the grapes come from FRESNO). Almost assuredly, they would forgo the ripple and thunderbird for the good stuff... right?

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