Will the Long Beach City Council call a time-out on new drive-throughs? The issue is up for discussion at tonight’s April 9 city council meeting, when city staff are recommending a moratorium on new drive-through lanes in order to craft updates to the zoning code that better reflect the city’s general plan and the concerns of some residents.
In a March 21 report to the Long Beach Planning Commission, Long Beach Development Services (LBDS) staff wrote, “Existing regulations governing drive-through facilities, last amended in 1999, lack sufficient design standards for drive-throughs to minimize impacts on pedestrians, safety, and welfare of the community.” The report goes on to state that the municipal code, as it currently stands, does not consider whether the placement of a drive-through is conducive to future transit or housing development.
Regarding the approval of fast food drive-throughs, Long Beach Planning Bureau Manager Christopher Koontz told the Business Journal that the municipal code prompts planners to consider only two points: whether there is enough space for cars to queue, and if the menu board is in an appropriate location. “Those really aren’t the right questions to be able to think about,” Koontz said.
LBDS is seeking the moratorium in order to create a new definition for drive-through facilities and to update commercial and industrial zoning use to reflect that change. Koontz said that the changes would allow planners to evaluate new drive-throughs by asking, “Is this really the right location for a drive-through facility? Is this going to interfere with the path of travel for pedestrians or motorists? Is this going to be compatible with what land uses are around it?”
According to LBDS, there are 116 fast food drive-through establishments in the City of Long Beach. Koontz said that planning commissioners, city councilmembers and the mayor have asked if there are too many of these facilities and, if so, what should be done to manage future development. “Those are open policy questions, and that’s what we’re trying to address, both through the moratorium, which buys us time, and more importantly through permanent regulations – which are not a ban – but will provide better decision making in the future,” Koontz said.
A coalition of local advocacy groups support the moratorium, including nonprofit Walk Long Beach, led by Executive Director Steve Gerhardt. “All we ask is, let’s not approve any more [drive-throughs] until we get these new rules in place,” he said.
Gerhardt said Walk Long Beach’s focus is creating more walkable neighborhoods and corridors. Other members of the coalition are opposed to drive-throughs on urban planning or nutritional grounds, he said. “We aren’t against them, we just think they need to be in the right places,” he explained. Gerhardt listed busy streets such as Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach Boulevard and areas near freeway ramps and shops as better suited to drive-through facilities. Designating these areas for drive-throughs would ensure that they are not built near residences where emissions and traffic would diminish quality of life, he said.
Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, said that similar moratoriums have been passed in other California municipalities over the last few years. “It’s up to the local elected officials to make that decision on how they want to pursue [it] in their community,” she said. “I look at it from the perspective of the consumer.”
From the consumer’s perspective, she continued, convenience is a consideration. Michelin raised the issue of drive-through pharmacies. “Sometimes you have older folks [for whom] it’s easier for them, for mobility reasons, to just pick up their medications from a drive-through as opposed to parking, getting out of a car and going into the store. So I think that should be considered,” she said.
The Long Beach drive-through moratorium was originally set for a vote by the city council on April 2. To accommodate numerous public comments and council commentary for a preceding agenda item on tenant assistance policy, councilmembers voted to delay the moratorium vote to April 9.