California NIMBYs Sue To Stop In-N-Out Burger From Coming to Their Town

Opponents use a notorious environmental review law to keep a famed fast food restaurant out of Rancho Mirage.


Two of California's greatest passions are colliding: NIMBYism and In-N-Out Burger.

In September, the people of Rancho Mirage learned that the regional burger chain intended to establish a new location in the vacant corner of a shopping center in their southern California city. Given the almost cult-like acclaim In-N-Out has attracted in California and across the Southwest, many residents were thrilled at the news. In letters to the city council, some expressed excitement about the prospect of having another place to grab a quick lunch. Business owners in the shopping center were happy too, figuring that the big-name brand could bring more customers to their stores.

By the end of the month, the city's Planning Commission had voted to approve In-N-Out's Rancho Mirage location. In October the city council gave its assent as well.

But not everyone was thrilled at the prospects of In-N-Out setting up in the city. A group comprised mostly of homeowners near the proposed site objected to the added noise, traffic, and emissions that they feared the restaurant would bring.

They also objected to the way in which the authorities had approved the project. The city had rezoned In-N-Out's property to allow for a fast food restaurant and declared that the project qualified for an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—a state law that requires projects be studied for significant environmental impacts.

As the In-N-Out project worked its way through the planning process, these opponents—who'd organized themselves under the group Save Rancho Mirage—submitted critical comment letters to city officials, picketed the proposed site of the restaurant, and showed up at public hearings to demand the project be stopped.

"Last Spring, much of the country was shocked to learn that elite members of society ignored the rule of law and bought their way into prestigious colleges," one opponent wrote to the city council. "Watching the Rancho Planning Commission ignore the rule of law last month as it railroaded through a recommended zoning change, a conditional use permit for In-N-Out, and other related proposals was just as bad."

When these protests proved ineffective at stopping city approval of the project, Save Rancho Mirage filed a lawsuit. It argues that the city had violated CEQA and illegally rezoned the site. The very popularity of In-N-Out, they claim, all but assures there will be significant environmental impacts that need to be studied and addressed.

"The traffic, noise, gas-house emissions and otherwise overall environmental degradation of these restaurants on surrounding neighborhoods is known to the public at large and is storied," says the suit. "It is a love affair that the public has with this restaurant that also brings an unfathomable burden on a surrounding neighborhood."

Local ABC affiliate KESQ reports that In-N-Out has committed to traffic mitigation measures if congestion proves a problem. This hasn't been enough for the opponents, who are demanding that any activity on the In-N-Out project be stopped, that a full environmental impact report be performed, and that the city pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees.

Accusations that a project has failed to satisfy CEQA's requirements is a common tactic among anti-growth groups. The law has been invoked in order to homeless shelters, apartment complexes, hotels, and even single-family homes.

If the lawsuit succeeds, you can add In-N-Out to the roll call of CEQA's victims. And even if the legal action fails, they still have managed to cost In-N-Out—not to mention its future customers and employees—both time and money.

NEXT: The Apollo Documents the Making (and Breaking) of Many an Entertainer

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The problem isn’t the burger chain. The real issue is the Double Double. It’s too damn good.

    1. It’s no Chick-fil-a, but whatevs.

      1. In-and-Out is overrated.
        Had it once.
        Tastes the same as Five Guys.
        The fries were good though

        1. And Five Guys is meh.

        2. Five guys is worth it for the fries. We don’t have in-n-out.

          After the last election it looks like we have a city council that finally gets it. Bunch of new stuff coming in including the new chick-fil-a.

        3. “In-and-Out is overrated.”
          The promo is good enough that, between wife and I, we gave it 5 tries (by actual count).
          In-and-Out sucks. The burgers and the fries don’t even get close to Micky D’s, for pete’s sake.
          Regardless, the nimbies should let it fail on the merits. Screw them.

          1. In-n-out is basically what McDonald’s was back when it was first starting out and still served good food with a simple menu. Those McD hockey pucks are disgusting.

        4. You’ve never eaten at In-N-Out. You know how we know? You said the fries were good.

          Their fries are shit. They are just about tolerable when smothered Animal Style and that’s about it.

          1. Its possible I don’t remember the fries – it was 2012.
            But, being a big fan of cheeseburgers and having a boss from LA, I was all excited to finally try In-N-Out.
            I was underwhelmed

          2. If you can find one that’s not swamped with customers, the fries might be a bit better. Usually, they’re running fries constantly and the oil gets cooled down too much to make really great fries. It’s possible to order the fries “well done”, but that involves just having them in the same temperature oil for longer so I’m not sure how much it would improve the final product.

            I’ve only tried Five Guys a couple times, and their fries are better than In-N-Out, but I wouldn’t say the burgers are even similar enough to compare. Five Guys was so unbelievably greasy that I wouldn’t haven been surprised if it had soaked through the foil they wrapped it in.

        5. > Tastes the same as Five Guys.

          Five Guys is just an expensive clone of In-and-Out.

        6. Not even close.

          Five Guys tastes like food.

    2. Searching for a supplemental source of income? This is the easiest way I have found to earn $6000+ per month over the internet. Work for a few hours per week in your free time and get paid on a regular basis.
      for more info visit any tab this site..☛

  2. Another municipality trying to give a business the ‘ol In-N-Out.

  3. Before you go feeling sorry for In-N-Out, keep in mind that they’re owned by Christians the same as Chik-fil-A. Gotta keep your SJW bona fides up-to-date before you say something somebody’s going to make you regret saying. Not that this could possibly have anything to do with what I’m sure are the fine, tolerant, inclusive, progressive people in Rancho Mirage are doing.

    1. They should merge and just call themselves No Gay Burgers and Waffle Fries to prove that if your food is good enough no one cares. From what I gather they treat their employees well, they love working there, and the companies are generally good people. They also donate to all sides with differing views, but people ignore that.

    2. Um… maybe. In-N-Out is owned by the one of the youngest female billionaires in the nation. Ahi is, nominally, a Christian. Her grandparents, who founded the chain, most certainly were deeply devout. However, she maintains an outrageously inclusive set of hiring practices, being an exceptional young woman.

      Now the real issue is California, being a state filled with intolerant, dogmatic militant socialists that tried to boycott her restaurant because she gives equally to republicans and Democrats. Democrats are the truly intolerant.

      Oh, and to the people who claim that her food is no better than McDonalds, one question: are you insane? Her restaurant make everything fresh, they have no freezers. They cut their own fries from potatoes they peel onsite. They usually undercook the fries, but they will accommodate any request to cook them further and an Animal Style Double Double is heaven sent.

    3. In other news, In-N-Out refuses to print gay verses on the bottom of its bags.

  4. That’s the problem with these desert towns like Rancho Mirage. You think you’re free to build a business, but it’s really just an optical illusion caused by the heat.

  5. Has anyone ever sued these CEQA abusers for not filing their own environmental impact statement? All that picketing isn’t good for the environment. The bus rides, blocking traffic, wood and paper and paint/marker pens, has anyone ever documented these costs to our fragile environment?

    1. Not to mention the fact that those resident homes and cars produce quite the carbon footprint themselves.

  6. “Save Rancho Mirage is not unreasonable in this matter. We only ask that a less popular chain restaurant with terrible food be opened on the site. Something like Subway or Taco Bell. We believe this will mitigate any traffic and environmental concerns.”

  7. No problems, they should put a Chik Fil A there instead. No traffic problems now

    1. I don’t like chicken sammiches, but I had one of theirs once, and it was a damned good sammich. There’s something about a company with religious roots that incentivizes them to offer a good product and excellent service. Almost like making a buck isn’t their primary goal.

      You can see that kind of craftsmanship and service in a tiny mom-n-pop, but when you get to the corporate level, without some some of guiding principles all you have are buzzword bingo corporatese mission statements.

  8. In-N-Out will bring in a ton of sales tax revenue.

  9. “A quick lunch”? It took the geniuses at the Ontario Mills store 20 minutes to make a damned single at 11 p.m.

    1. I preferred Fatburger.

      No drive-thru, though.

    2. I went to the one on Sunset in L.A.

      It was a zoo and hardly quick. But we were on vacation and my daughter loved the experience. Good burger too.

  10. As always, use of the NIMBY label is morally reprehensible. It covers for an argument that certain people should be targeted for uncompensated losses—losses which the people doing the labeling would not consent to suffer themselves.

    In this case, it is a reliable zoning principle that fast food chains are bad neighbors in residential neighborhoods. The previous zoning appears to have recognized that. The changed zoning discards that principle, and seems to be doing so in a way that violates yet another zoning principle, the one against spot zoning.

    It’s another case to illustrate still another principle—that libertarians irrationally side with land developers, and against the liberty of others. Why?

    1. It’s a shopping center.

    2. Why side with letting someone build something on land they own? No idea…

    3. >> it is a reliable zoning principle that fast food chains are bad neighbors in residential neighborhoods.


    4. Leave it to a lefty to get it exactly backwards.

    5. it is a reliable zoning principle that fast food chains are bad neighbors in residential neighborhoods.

      Yet the shopping center was not a bad neighbor?

    6. Stephen Lathrop
      November.1.2019 at 4:56 pm
      “…In this case, it is a reliable zoning principle that fast food chains are bad neighbors in residential neighborhoods…”

      As is common, your post is reliable evidence that

    7. So the alleged problem is that a shopping center might have too many customers? I’d have expected that to have been taken into account when the shopping center was originally approved, because nobody builds a shopping center where they don’t expect to draw lots of business.

      1. The problem is the lowbrow burger drive thru. NIMBYs all think their town should be like downtown Aspen.

        They went around with clipboards here when Aldis discount grocery went to put in a store in a vacant spot at the strip mall. Meanwhile the Whole Foods type place just closed up.

    8. I am usually with the developers, but I don’t think I am this time. The biggest reason why is because the government has a rule that they opted to ignore because the company had money. The rule either needs to be revoked so that nobody is expected to follow it, or applied to everyone-none of this special exception nonsense.

  11. On the one hand, disrupting creation of jobs and wealth sucks. On the other hand, it’s California, so fuck em all and get the popcorn.

  12. In-n-out burger sucks. they changed the oil in the fires and -cut frozen that they thaw in a microwave. their hamburgers are ok but not worth all the hype

    1. why do words dissapear,
      the pre-cut fries are frozen

    2. you can still see them peeling the potatoes and slicing the fries while you drive up to the window. I suppose that’s just for show?

  13. Fatburger for life!

  14. In & Out Burger might be the most overrated fast food chain out there

    but Nimby’s still suck

    1. November Juliet 2 Alpha Zulu,
      Agreed in both comments.
      (can’t help it; it’s too close to a tail number)

      1. i always thought that too. But i looked it up and the FAA says it’s not a valid number.

  15. As the In-N-Out project worked its way through the planning process, these opponents—who’d organized themselves under the group Save Rancho Mirage—submitted critical comment letters to city officials, picketed the proposed site of the restaurant, and showed up at public hearings to demand the project be stopped.

    So this proves again that the people of California are worse than their government.

    If I were the city council, I’d immediately agree with the local residents and instead stand up a safe injection site in the very same spot, and allow unfettered street camping.

    1. In SF, the mayor (who thinks she was coronated) has started construction of a bum’s residence on the Embarcadero, with wonderful bay views, which residence costs the bums nothing at all.
      The mayor is also ‘concerned’ about the number of bums who are currently in SF, and she obviously has no idea how many will be here soon.

    2. Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

      H. L. Mencken

  16. “The traffic, noise, gas-house emissions and otherwise overall environmental degradation of these restaurants on surrounding neighborhoods is known to the public at large and is storied,” says the suit.

    Does In-n-Out cook burgers with gas?

  17. Jerry Brown tried to fix the CEQA problem but ran into a buzzsaw of opposition.
    And- In and Out makes a great burger, but the original Bob’s Big Boy was much better.

    1. I miss those places. We dont have them around here anymore.

      When I was in college some guys managed to steal the Big Boy from out front. They took a picture of him in the woods and demanded a ransom of a sack of burgers.

  18. That place looks like the P. Terry’s on Guadalupe in North Austin. Best burger for the price in the hood. Police station is across the street.

  19. Why does any business even bother to try in California?

  20. Great News Website I Like it .
    Manifestation Magic

  21. I am making $95 bucks hours for working from home And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. Now and Earn extra money in part time , I’m just so happy that I found out about it…………★↓↓↓↓ Click Here SITE ↓↓↓↓★
    Read more <===

  22. What I like the most in your post? Is the way you bring the information into the spciety and especially on this blog, quite interesting manner of giving the lecture, I guess a lot of teachers and writers can borrow smth, one more intetersing site which provide you with all neccessar help and assisstance which I have found recently was where you can buy an essay and all of them will be quite exclusive and intgeresting like the information on this blog

  23. I really don’t care. Food franchises are a plague; they have destroyed all the local restaurants. If it were up to me, I would get rid of all of them. Then I would encourage the locals to give the restaraunt business a try. And I would tell those government “Health Department” inspectors that they get graded, too. And those grades will be on-line, for everyone to see.

  24. You can’t go to In-n-out for a quick lunch, the drive-through line is too long and too slow.

    No one eats there anymore, it’s too crowded.

  25. Buncha complainers. Anyone who thinks in-and-out is in any way similar to Five Guys hasn’t visited one of those places.
    Talk about first world problems.

  26. Now Libertarians reject Lockean theory of property?

    If I have a farm, and it has been a farm for 100 years, and some plant moves nearby that destroys my crops, I should have no say?

    Or I can move next door to you and blast loud music at all hours, or Barbecue or smoke meats, there is nothing you should be able to do, after all, I’m not actually crossing onto your property, my economic externalities are.

    Beyond that the roads aren’t free, so extra traffic will mean taxes to expand and repair roads.

    In one sense, a zoning change is as much a “taking” as condemning my house, since I have a right to quiet enjoyment and that is being stripped (or not, or maybe there are mitigations, but that is what the lawsuit is about).

    NIMBYs are normally hypocrits, who want things – like illegal aliens, homeless, just not in their back yard. No one wants a noisy, stinky, nuisance in their back yard. That is why there is zoning, or the earlier Locken and common law property provisions against doing so.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.