With a two-year moratorium on the development of new stand-alone fast food restaurants in portions of South Los Angeles set to expire September 14, community groups and city officials who support the temporary ban continue to push for permanent solutions to the area's lack of healthy food options.
About 100 people gathered Thursday night for a town hall meeting at Second African Methodist Episcopal Church, organized by the non-profit Community Health Councils, Inc. Presenters included officials from the city planning department, the county public health department and Councilman Bernard Parks, whose Council District 8 falls within the boundaries of the interim control ordinance on fast food.
"Our community is stricken by cigarettes, smoking, lung cancer, obesity, childhood diabetes. All those things are food-driven," Parks said. "If you don't give them the option of alternatives, they will keep eating only the options that are available."
Speaker Aurora Lopez of the county Department of Public Health pointed out that 65 percent of the schools in Los Angeles County are within walking distance of a fast food restaurant.
According to Community Health Councils, more than 70 percent of the restaurants in South Los Angeles are fast food outlets. The consumption of inexpensive fast food in low-income neighborhoods has been linked to a number of public health problems, including a higher prevalence of diabetes among racial and ethnic minorities.
The fast food moratorium, a tactic dubbed "health zoning" in a Los Angeles Times story when it was proposed, was put in place as a temporary solution while long-term solutions were drafted. The city planning department has been working on developing regulations on fast food restaurant development in the West Adams/Baldwin Hills, South and Southeast community plan areas, but the updated regulations will not be complete until early next year, said Gwendolyn Flynn, policy director for Community Health Councils. The goal is ultimately to bring more grocery stores, sit-down and even fast food restaurants offering healthier food, and farmer's markets to the area, Flynn said.
Some of those who attended pointed out that while curbing fast food offerings could help, there are other obstacles to improving the diets of some South Los Angeles residents, especially those who depend on public assistance to buy groceries.
"Especially if they are using the EBT card, they would not be able to survive purchasing healthy items," said Rev. Mark W. Gory, associate minister with the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship. "They are caught in a situation where they might want to buy healthy items, but they cannot afford it."