Activists push for permanent fast-food restaurant ban in South LA

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Jack In The Box and Carls Jr. fast-food restaurant signs glow July 24, 2008 on the Figueroa Street Corridor of South Los Angeles area of Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles City Council committee unanimously approved year-long moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area, mostly in South Los Angeles, pending approval by the full council and the signature of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to make it the law. South LA has the highest concentration of fast-food restaurants of the city, about 400, and only a few grocery stores. L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry proposed the measure to try to reduce health problems associated with a diet high in fast-food, like obesity and diabetes, which plague many of the half-million people living there.

The Los Angeles City Council made history last year when it approved a temporary ban on fast-food restaurants in South L.A. Activists are pushing to make that ban permanent.

The council unanimously agreed on the year-long moratorium last summer. The idea was to draw attention to the health issues associated with fast food – in an area that lacks the variety of food choices more affluent parts of the Southland take for granted.

Community Health Councils’ Lark Galloway-Gilliam says it’s too soon to tell whether the ban has made her neighbors healthier or thinner. “We’re not gonna see the benefits of that for some time," says Galloway-Gilliam. "But we’ve gotta start someplace and we’ve gotta start sometime.”

Galloway-Gilliam’s organization is leading the move at L.A. City Hall to put a permanent law on the books by early next year. She says city council members signal support, but she expects some pushback from restaurant lobbying groups.

So, she’s started forming her argument. “How do you argue with trying to make communities healthier?” says Galloway-Gilliam. “How do you argue with the high rates of childhood obesity and the fact that we need to do something about that? How do you argue with the fact that, in this community where you don’t have the other alternatives, we see people dying prematurely of heart disease and diabetes?”

The current fast-food ban ends a week from today. The California Restaurant Association called it misguided and contended that fast food is the only industry that wants to be in South L.A. Lark Galloway-Gilliam wants the new law to go beyond distance and drive-through restrictions, and to attract restaurants with healthier menus.

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