This hasn’t been the best week for our nation’s fast food chains: Yesterday, President Obama signed the new health care bill, which included legislation requiring any restaurant with at least 20 outlets to post nutritional information on their menus. Right around the same time the President was signing the bill, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced her intentions to ask the city to distinguish fast-food outlets from regular restaurants in its zoning code.
The Daily News reports that Quinn is asking the City Charter Commission to formally differentiate fast-food restaurants in an effort to restrict their number in poor neighborhoods, where they have traditionally flourished. Such restrictions have been put in place in cities like London and southern Los Angeles; City Councilman Joel Rivera tried to introduce similar legislation back in 2006, but was thwarted by the city’s zoning laws.
The Los Angeles fast-food zoning restrictions have not been without their critics: Slate’s William Saletan argued it had the effect of “treating poor people like children,” while a Rand Corp. study found that poorer neighborhoods didn’t actually have that many more fast-food outlets than their wealthier counterparts. What the targeted neighborhoods did have more of were small grocery stores like bodegas, which sold largely highly processed snack foods. And it was snacking and soda consumption, the study found, that had more of an impact on weight gain than the presence of fast-food restaurants.
The study also came to the conclusion that sit-down restaurants, which proponents of the zoning legislation hoped to attract in place of fast-food chains, weren’t a particularly healthy option, either: Calorie counts for average sit-down meals typically exceeded those of, say, a burger and fries.
The Los Angeles City Council intended the two-year zoning restriction as a stop-gap measure “to allow City Planning time to study the effects of these establishments as they pertain to community design, pedestrian activity, traffic and other important urban planning;” If New York passed a similar measure, it could carry a similar time limit that would allow the city to plan a more long-term strategy for battling obesity. Better start rolling out a few more green carts now.
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