Businesses hoping to open drive-thrus in Long Beach will have to wait at least six months after the City Council enacted a moratorium Tuesday night while it gathers data on what kind of drive-thru operations best suit the area.
The 8-1 vote came after over an hour of discussion where the council was split on whether it should impose a moratorium at all. Councilman Daryl Supernaw, the lone dissenting vote and the councilman who represents a portion of the city that has seen a large influx of drive-thru operations in recent years, said he felt a moratorium could send an anti-business message.
His district, which includes the Traffic Circle area, has multiple future drive-thru operators in the works including the development that will replace the recently shuttered Spires restaurant on Willow Street and Lakewood Boulevard and a yet-to-open vegan restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway.
In total Supernaw said his district has seen seven new drive-thrus open in recent years with about four more in the works. He added that they have increased the tax-revenue base and created jobs.
“When I look at what’s happened to the Traffic Circle area, I don’t believe that the retail renaissance would’ve happened without the drive-thru business model,” Supernaw said.
While Tuesday’s vote exempted drive-thru plans that were already in the process of being approved, a motion by Supernaw to move forward with a study that didn’t include the moratorium was defeated by a 5-4 vote.
Long Beach Director of Development Services Linda Tatum said the moratorium would likely impact few businesses as the city processes about five drive-thru operations per year on average. Tatum said city staff had originally requested a 12-month moratorium while they prepared a report that could include new guidelines for pedestrian safety, traffic impacts and noise levels created by the drive-thru’s speaker boxes.
“We are by no means suggesting that we shouldn’t have drive-thrus, but what we wanted to do was take a really careful look at the location requirements for drive-thrus to be a little bit more specific and look at some of the potential negative impacts of drive-thrus,” Tatum said.
Community members and pedestrian advocate groups called for the moratorium, saying drive-thru operations impact neighboring communities with increased pollution caused by idling cars and by putting more cars on the road. Mayor Robert Garcia, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, publicly supported the idea in a tweet posted in late February.
Kirk Davis, a North Long Beach resident, said he got more involved in this issue after a series of drive-thrus were approved in his neighborhood, some of which were very close to homes. He said that cars, no matter how fast they’re served, add to the already bad air quality in his neighborhood. He pointed to Baldwin Park, the home of In-N-Out Burger, which banned new drive-thru operations in 2010.
“They figure the average wait time is four minutes, that’s from order to pick up,” Davis said. “That doesn’t include the time that you wait before. If you have 400 cars a day come in, that causes 12 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That’s just one drive-thru.”
Despite some division among the council over the moratorium, the idea that drive-thru regulations should be updated was nearly unanimous.
Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that mobile ordering applications have allowed operators to speed up their service for vehicles and cut down on emissions, and when drive-thru operators have closed down in her district, it’s just forced traffic to the next-closest establishment, creating longer queues in the drive-thru line.
“I think it’s important for us to know the types of drive-thrus we have and to understand that when people want to get to a drive-thru they’re just going to drive further to get to one, which is additional greenhouse gasses if they’re not in the right places,” Mungo said. “And we already know that a lot of them are in completely wrong places, but this city was built a long time ago.”
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