Fast Food Restrictions Fatten Up the Government

Say what you will about the nation's obesity crisis. It gives every level of government a bellyful of new reasons to save you from yourself. And isn't that what we need? This seems to be the obsession in California, from the statehouse to the home of the stars.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger found time in his busy day, away from multiple wildfires and runaway budgets, to sign bill AB97, forbidding restaurants from using trans fats by 2010 and banning that substance from all baked goods by 2011. In the minority voting against the bill was Assemblyman Paul Cook, who raised the pregnant questions: "How much are we going to regulate people's diets? What's next, a bag of potato chips? Coffee? Soda?"

About the same day came the ruling by the Los Angeles City Council. Councilwoman Jan Perry has worked for six long years in the wilderness, but now her time has come. Awaiting a signature from the mayor, the council unanimously declared a moratorium, essentially a ban, on all new fast food outlets in south LA. Existing fast food restaurants cannot expand or remodel. This ban covers a 32-square-mile area containing 500,000 residents. If the poor want a burger and fries, the message depends on who you're listening to. It's either "your salvation draws near" or "your days are numbered."

Activists pushing the ban called it an end to "food apartheid," saying there is one kind of food in south LA but a different and better kind elsewhere. A hoped-for consequence of the ban is a growth in non-drive-through, sit-down restaurants with food choices the activists would agree with.

A moratorium in LA may run two years, with the possibility of two six-month extensions. What would happen in that time? City staff would craft new zoning rules. If an existing restaurant said they needed to expand, they could apply as a "hardship case." Perry said she would expect the city to come up with financial assistance for some restaurants on the way to being put out of business by her regulation. It's a good thing there's so much slack in the LA city budget that they can give money away where it wasn't needed before.

The city staff would work to attract sit-down restaurants with healthier food choices. Why haven't these restaurants already located in this area of half a million people? One would imagine they could count the numbers, locate available land, and gauge interest in their menus. Could it be that the ordinary residents prefer burritos to sushi?

Arguments against the rule fell like salt from French fries. Fast food workers told the council how their businesses provide jobs in the poorest sections of town, jobs these residents depend on. Providers like McDonalds have already been listing nutritional information and healthier food choices. Didn't matter to the LA City Council. The time had come for these merchants of grease to feel the directing hand of regulation. Otherwise, who knows how they'll behave?