Fast Food · Laws & Regulations

Hypocrisy served from SLO Drive Thrus

By Gerald Craig

San Luis Obispo prides itself on not having fast food drive thrus since the ban went on the books in the early 1980s. SLO consumers have missed a drive up Mac attack since 1982. This may seem critical, but it started when restaurants had political clout to get what they wanted. I remember when it happened. City council wanted to be environmentally responsible and seemed to think that drive thrus contribute to litter and pollution. Environmental concern is great, but there is no proof, nor even accurate study, showing a correlation between drive thru windows and global warming. Will it be changed soon? Stay tuned below for the update.

Many city council members have owned interests in businesses and properties in the downtown area for years, including Paul Brown, owner of Mother’s Tavern. Many others get support and donations from property and downtown business owners. This prevented businesses from establishing in other areas for many years. The argument was that downtown was the place for business. The only development allowed, with some preferred treatment, was Madonna Plaza on Madonna Road. Foothill Plaza also existed prior to the wave of environmentalists.

The council was very protective of downtown businesses and did not want any changes that might allow businesses to draw from that corridor. You had Sears, JC Penney’s, Korb’s Trading Post, and many other large businesses downtown. Nowadays, politicians are made to disclose any potential conflict of interest and recuse themselves from questionable votes. Back then, they just ran roughshod over the topics and just did what they felt.

The Principle Players

Alan K Settle, came out of the Political Science department of Cal Poly and was supported by the Sierra Club in 2002. He was in the middle of a controversy about whether he actually lived within the city limits. While he owned a home in town with tenants, he could not provide evidence he lived there rather than Fox Canyon near Arroyo Grande where he owned a million dollar home. I don’t know if he used drive thrus in 5 Cities, but banning them in SLO certainly had no negative effect on him.

He claimed he wanted to  improve traffic management, and careful land use growth management policies. Also to “reconcile” environmental and business concerns with emphasis on maintaining the small town atmosphere and city control of land use surrounding the city, the green belt around the city and waterway habitat preservation.This all points to an environmentalist slant, or bias, to me.

Mayor Melanie C. Billig, who moved to Carmel, still owned a 5-acre parcel across from Twin Cities Hospital and proposed a mental health hospital on her property after scrubbing plans for an assisted living due to financing issues. She only served from 1981 to 1985 when she promoted the project for the performing arts facility. She also served as VP for Monterey County League of Women Voters. There does not seem to be a true legacy for her, other than not being reelected. She seems to me to be poor at business.

Ron Dunin, mayor during the Poly Royal riots of 1990 and retired public works director for SLO, had dedicated himself to downtown parking issues, revitalizing downtown, “preserving” neighborhoods, acquisition of open space, relieving traffic congestion and “improving” our quality of life. He did some of this by shutting down the downtown Higuera St. to stop youngsters from cruising the town. As a disclosure, I was one of those youngsters. This was done in favor of downtown businesses that did not like Thursday cruise night. This eventually became Farmer’s Market.

GlennaDeane Dovey, has been a president of the League of Women Voters, an organization that supported civil discourse at government meetings. In 2002, she wrote to the editor of the Tribune a letter declaring people should vote no on measure B, which would provide binding arbitration for city police and fire. She also served on the Senior Advisory Group for Education at Cuesta College. For a view of social services and traffic, she also served as a SLO Council Of Governments/RTA Board Member, Regional Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC) Member, and Social Services Transportation Advisory Council (SSTAC) Member.

She had run for office and came in third, but was appointed to her position. She was dedicated to preserving SLO city’s small town atmosphere. She said she was committed to protecting the downtown area as the commercial center of the Central Coast. She opposed the shopping mall proposed and eventually built next to Madonna Plaza because she felt it would not help keep the downtown healthy. To promote downtown, she supported the parking structures and a program that limits the height up the hillsides where homes can be built. She supported expansion of Mission Plaza and a downtown bus terminal.

Robert Griffin, assistant to the Cal Poly Foundation executive director and appointed to a term as councilman in 1981 instead of elected by the voters, called the city’s limited growth policies “good business”. He claimed people had seen him as a political ac­tivist who had broadened his environmentalist stance then noted that he was not that environmentalist on the council, but was a “facilitator” on issues. This gave him latitude to be wish-washy. He supported  the proposed parking garage, the development of downtown, and the construction of a mall adjacent to the Madonna Road Plaza.

All of these candidate statements and support seems to me like politico-speak for slowing down SLO. It is no wonder they were so willing to ban drive thrus in our city. Without consideration for the preferences of voters, two of which were not originally elected, they were able to leave a mark on our city that ties the hands of business and consumers.

The 2007 Ban Review

Yes, it was brought up to the city in 2007 and kicked down. The owner of several McDonald’s locally, including San Luis Obispo, asked to have it reviewed. There is no evidence that the ban has had any benefit. Some people say the fat people should park and walk in to get some exercise before ordering. Others say it might make it less likely that someone might choose junk food or fast food. I guess these people do not have children that insist on what they want.

Then there is the mother or family that is victimized by this ban because now they have to unbuckle and unload the kids from the van or suv, take them inside and watch them so they don’t get lost, hurt, or taken, get the food and have luck carrying it all back to the vehicle or keep the kids settled down to eat inside. Then she/they get back to the van or suv and put all the kids back in, buckle them safely, get back in and drive off. I guess ban supporters don’t think of families.

Remember Paul Brown, former owner of Mother’s Tavern downtown? He, councilman Carter, and Christine Mulholland did not want to change. Brown even said it was about getting people to enjoy SLO, not just pollution issues. Sorry, Paul, but I’m not sure people are enjoying the scenery of the gas station, other fast food places, traffic, and the back door of Taco Bell while getting their food. They usually just want to get it and go.

A Compromise

Councilman Carter seems to think the citizens of SLO support the ban. Really? Who did you ask? Your business owning friends? How about a study? Let fast food business owners conduct a study, hiring an independent consultant, to see for real. How about an EIR to establish if the ban really works. With all the low emission and hybrid cars, is it as much of an issue as when the gas guzzlers were out there?

If the people don’t want it, the business will not want it. It is a ridiculous argument and typical politician tactic to have some magical poll in their head to say the citizens don’t want it. Nobody ever asked me. Here is how business works, city councilpersons. A business tries something. If it is profitable they continue to do it, and expand on it. It creates jobs, tax revenue, and spending by the business. If it is not profitable they do not do it, and other smart business owners won’t try it either. Who gave you the mental powers to “know” what the citizens want? I say the citizens don’t want drive thru banking so lets shut them down as well. You can get your butts out of your cars and make your deposits.

Here is a thought. Many communities ban certain types of developments in certain areas. For instance, you don’t put a grocery store in the middle of an area zoned for parks and recreation. Arroyo Grande protects the heritage of the old part of town by not allowing drive thrus there, while allowing them further down Grand Ave. Pismo Beach prevents drive thrus in the tourist corridor, but allow them by the outlet center.

Hey, SLOtown, how about allowing drive thrus along the freeway and main corridors like Foothill Blvd from Hwy 1 to Broad, all along Santa Rosa to Hwy 101, along the 101 corridor, and Broad St from Orcutt Rd. to the airport? Hey, there you go. That’s easy enough and will generate more revenue for the city. Tourists expect to see drive thrus and often choose to get their food for the road.

Instead, they idle finding parking, maybe waiting for a place to park at lunch rush, stop the car, then start it again using fuel and emissions, then idle on the way out, maybe lunch traffic. Is that really that much better than a quick drive thru window? How about on hot days when someone will leave the car running in the parking lot for air conditioning while one person goes in to order for everyone then bring it out to go?

My Rant:

Maybe special interests are more important than resident interests. You may say it makes people happy, whether it is true or not, but forced happiness is not true happiness. It is easier access for people with handicaps and limitations. The handicap spaces are usually taken up at these places while you see people with canes, wheelchairs, and walkers going in and out. It is more ADA compliant to just let them drive up. How about at least allowing carhop service like the old A&W did? Sonic does that at their restaurants. You park, buzz, order, eat, all in the car.

Drive thrus can account for as much as 60% or more of a fast food restaurant’s income. When I am going someplace, I pull over in Pismo, Atascadero, or Morro Bay to get to a drive thru to order my food. Going to the races in Santa Maria? Stop in Pismo. Going up the coast to the elephant seals, get food in Morro Bay. Going to the fair? Pause in Atascadero. If I decide I want it fast, and don’t want to support businesses that are downtown, then I’ll run by the fast food giants.

You allow bank drive-thrus because they don’t litter there? Is that the difference? Or is it because you like your banking fast? How about emissions from those cars? Perhaps because their business owner friends don’t want to stop and walk in to make their deposits? Make the fat merchants exercise for their money like they want us to do for food.



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