Oh, brother. Now a politician in Los Angeles is on the “let’s use land use law to make people stop doing what might be bad for them by keeping it away from them” bandwagon (see my July, 2006, Update). I found this July 14, 2008, Washington Post item via pajamasmedia.com.
Jan Perry, councilperson representing District 9 on the Los Angeles City Council, has introduced legislation that would place a moratorium on the construction of new fast food restaurants in her District. The reasons, of course, are the “alarming rates of childhood obesity and a poverty of healthful eating choices” in the area:
“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?”
No other choices? So, there are no grocery stores in District 9? Not one single sit-down restaurant? No “fast food” restaurants that serve salads?
Let’s take Ms. Perry at her word and assume that there really are no choices other than fast food establishments in District 9, meaning that without those fast food establishments, her constituents would have to drive to, say, District 8 to get food (because I’m sure she would not only ban new outlets but force the existing ones out as well if she thought she could get away with it). Does Ms. Perry really think that by forcing her constituents to drive to another neighborhood to get food, she is going to force them to not patronize the fast food outlets in that neighborhood? Or does she think that the people in District 9 who want food from a grocery store are not already driving to District 8 to get food (assuming there actually are no grocery stores at all in District 9)? What does banning fast food outlets in District 9 do for those people?
Now, there are legitimate reasons for regulating the location of fast food outlets. Most people would not want one next to their house because of traffic noise, litter (the biggest negative impact of these businesses, in my opinion) and bright lights at night. Those are concerns that relate to the incompatibility of the use, however. Using zoning to limit a land use as a way to discourage behaviors associated with that use is an entirely different concept, a concept that I think is disconnected from the purpose of zoning.
The Washington Post item is of course adorned with a photograph showing a Taco Bell next to a Pizza Hut next to a McDonalds. The implication is that no forethought goes into selecting the locations of those outlets, that they just mindlessly locate themselves next to each other wherever there happens to be available space. Perhaps Ms. Perry doesn’t know it, but before making the sizable investment necessary to establish a new location, the parent companies of those outlets do extensive market research on the traffic, the proximity of competing outlets (meaning others that sell the same kind of food), and similar factors. When was the last time you saw a McDonalds that was right next to a Burger King, or that was in a location that didn’t get heavy vehicular and/or foot traffic? Fast food joints are going to want to locate in high-traffic or high-density areas because that’s where the people are.
And if high-traffic of high-density areas are where fast food joints want to be, could that be because they tend to get lots of customers in those areas? And could that be because people want topatronize those establishments? Since when should land use law be designed to keep certain businesses away from people who want to patronize them? Since an elected representative decided that what we want isn’t what she thinks is good for us?
AND NOW FOR SOME BASEBALL (OR WIFFLE® BALL) NEWS
Did you know that the new Yankee Stadium is costing $1.3 billion, and that as much as $450 million of that is being contributed by New York City and state taxpayers? Well, in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut, some teenagers built a field to play WIFFLE® ball at a cost of only about $200 on land that isn’t even theirs. Of course some neighbors soon complained, and the next thing you know it’s in the New York Times (July 10, 2008). Since the land on which the field is located happens to be owned by the Town of Greenwich, it looks like the field might get to stay despite the complaints. To me it’s just another example of a property owner thinking that they have a right to assume that the use (or non-use) of neighboring property will never change. I’m actually more interested in how a city that was bankrupt not all that long ago can contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to a project for a private enterprise.