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New Community Plan may loosen fast food restrictions on select South LA neighborhoods

A new Community Plan proposed for the Baldwin Hills/Leimert Park area would exempt Council District 10 from current restrictions on new fast food restaurants in the area.
A new Community Plan proposed for the Baldwin Hills/Leimert Park area would exempt Council District 10 from current restrictions on new fast food restaurants in the area.
Yung/Flickr Creative Commons

For years, health advocates and city officials have fought to keep fast food chains out of South L.A. neighborhoods. But under the new proposed Community Plan for the West Adams - Baldwin Hills -Leimert Park area, many of the current restrictions on such places may be lifted. 

Gwendolyn Flynn, the policy director of non-profit health advocacy group Community Health Councils (CHC), said the current Community Plan for this area would exempt Council District 10 from the fast food ordinance—which blocks stand-alone fast food restaurants from opening within a half mile of another existing fast food eatery. 

"The ordinance’s goal was to curb the concentration of fast food restaurants and preserve space for the development of other food choices," said the CHC.

Flynn added that 70 percent of restaurants in South L.A. are fast food outlets, as compared to 40 percent nearby West L.A. neighborhoods. 

“We want to have more variety in our community in the same way that our adjacent neighbors have," said Flynn.

Flynn, along with other activists and area residents, attended a City Planning Commission hearing Thursday at City Hall to protest the current version of the Community Plan. Flynn said that by the end of the day, the commission decided to recommend removing the exemption from the community plan. 

Although Flynn said this is a step in the right direction, their recommendation must now be approved by the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee and eventually the full City Council. 

If the commission's recommendation is not approved and CD 10 is exempted from the fast food ban, nearly 80 percent of the people who live in the Baldwin Hills Community Plan area will be affected. The exempted area would stretch from Jefferson Blvd north to Pico, west to Culver City and east to Arlington/Van Ness.

But many experts debate over how effective the fast food ban is, and if it's really enough to make a dent in the area's obesity numbers. 

Yang Lu, a research professor at USC, told OnCentral last year that although offering healthier food options is a good start to improving overall community health, public education and clear menu labeling may also help.

"Even when people know whats good for them sometimes some comfort food, some fast food is so addictive," Lu said.

Other health experts say the real change comes from personal choice—meaning you can't force people to make healthy choices. And if you try too hard there's often a backlash, as evidenced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to ban sodas that are 16 ounces or larger. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that new research shows by outlawing large sodas, beverage makers may begin to sell sodas in smaller packages and bundle them together as a single unit. This could encourage consumers to buy and drink more soda than they would have before the ban.

Similar sentiments have been expressed regarding the fast food ban. The ordinance doesn't address existing fast food restaurants or those in shopping centers or strip malls, so banning new locations could increase business at existing fast food restaurants.