Santa Monica Poised to Permanently Ban National Fast Food Chains on the Promenade
By Jorge Casuso
January 22, 2021 -- In an effort to help retain the Promenade's unique character, the City Council on Tuesday is expected to give final approval to a permanent ban on national fast food chains fronting the popular outdoor strip.
City and Downtown officials are especially worried the spaces vacated by restaurants due to the coronavirus shutdown will be filled with ubiquitous chains that could threaten the eclectic character of the three-decades-old strip.
"A well-heeled fast food chain like Taco Bell and Chic-fil-A could pay double or triple the rent," Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson told the Council when it initially approved the ordinance on December 15.
"While we understand and share the sense of urgency around filling our increasing number of vacancies and stabilizing our local economy, we caution that permitting even a few fast food outlets now will significantly alter the tone and character of the Promenade for decades to come," she said.
Rawson noted property owners on the Promenade would jump at the chance to sign long-term leases with the national chains.
In an effort to allow smaller regional fast food chains that could offer affordable prices, the Council followed the Downtown agency's urging that the ordinance increase the number of locations a chain can have from 100 to 150.
The new threshold would "provide additional flexibility in light of current economic conditions due to COVID-19," City staff wrote in its report.
"The threshold of 100 domestic locations was intended to prohibit traditional nationwide fast food restaurants while permitting smaller regional chains and international fast food restaurants likely to serve as a unique draw for consumers," staff said.
"Given current economic conditions, and an anticipated increase in vacancies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a slight increase of this threshold to 150 domestic outlets is proposed."
The Council heeded the warning and unanimously voted on December 15 to increase the threshold and make the interim prohibition ordinance that expired November 26 permanent.
The ordinance, which was first approved on an interim basis in 2018, defines fast food outlets as restaurants that take orders at a walk-up window, counter or machine, according to staff.
Such restaurants also collect payment before serving and use throw-away wrapping, containers or utensils.
The ordinance the Council is expected to approve on second reading does not bar fast food restaurants in the rest of the Downtown, including Promenade spaces without street frontage, or in the rest of the city.
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