City Reviews Moratorium

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With fast-food chain stores bringing more cars and trash to Berkeley's streets, the City Council last night sent a proposal for a one-year moratorium on fast food restaurants on San Pablo Avenue to a city commission for further examination.

The moratorium, put on the agenda by council members Linda Maio and Margaret Breland, would prevent the opening of new fast-food restaurants, but it would not eliminate existing restaurants.

Maio said litter is one of the biggest problems with such restaurants, because the food is served in disposable wrappers and containers.

Calvin Fong, Breland's aide, said there has been a lot of input about the matter from people living near San Pablo Avenue. Although some people like having the restaurants nearby, others call them "garbage magnets" because of all the trash they create, he said.

Another problem with fast-food restaurants is the automobile traffic they attract, since many have parking lots in front or drive-through windows, Maio said.

Maio is also concerned because many of the restaurants are part of chains, which detract from commercial areas and take business away from local shops. She said cities and towns are becoming increasingly similar due to formula businesses.

"I've been alive long enough to experience commercial districts that have unique stores and a lot of vitality," she said.

She said she does not want Berkeley to lose its reputation for interesting shops.

Maio said it is important, however, to have restaurants where people can eat an inexpensive meal. She said she does not want to get rid of all fast-food restaurants, but she thinks there are already enough of them in Berkeley.

Fong said there have not been any surveys asking people who frequent fast-food restaurants in the area if they think there are enough of them or if they want more variety. He said that getting the input of people living near San Pablo Avenue is part of a planning process for the area. The area is ripe for development, and vacant properties along the street are being purchased, he said.

The moratorium is designed to give the community time to decide what kind of new businesses it wants.

Councilmember Polly Armstrong said she is not a fan of fast-food chains, but she wants the city to take time to think about how to deal with the problem. She said she worries about the council making quick decisions at meetings instead of doing research and enforcing existing laws and ordinances.

"We have to be very careful that we don't eliminate locally-owned carry-out food (restaurants)," she said.

John Madrigal, a manager at one of the fast-food restaurants on San Pablo Avenue, said he does not think the moratorium will affect the restaurant.

"It would probably help our business, if anything," he said.

The city defines fast-food restaurants as retail eating and drinking establishments which can serve a high volume of customers at a high turnover rate.

According to the definition, other qualities of fast-food restaurants include having pre-prepared food before customers' orders and inadequate seating areas that encourage customers to eat the food off the premises.

Some restaurants meeting the definition, such as coffeehouses and dessert shops, are exempt from qualification as fast-food restaurants.


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