'Exports yes, imports no' doesn't work

Yes, we agree:

Fast food is bad for your health, and fast-food restaurants are a blight on the American landscape. Our locally owned eateries are excellent and deserve our support. Corporate interests have too much influence over our society and culture. Bainbridge Island should be different, unique.

A tide of such sentiments has been unleashed in the community, as outgoing City Councilman Norm Wooldridge assembles a team to consider aesthetic standards for future fast-food eateries. The effort anticipates a day when the island’s longstanding restrictions on “formula take-out restaurants” – currently limited to a zone on High School Road, east of the highway – are, by council action or court decision, no more.

We agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments.

But let’s also remember a few facts:

In 2000, Bainbridge Island’s restrictions on formula fast-food outlets were challenged in court by a franchise pizza vendor; believing that the ordinance would be struck down, the city’s attorneys settled with the vendor for roughly $100,000, and agreed that he could open a business in the Village shopping center. He took the money and went elsewhere; the settlement is all that prevented a likely judgment against the city.

So the notion of establishing aesthetic standards for the next Taco Bell or Subway that rolls in shouldn’t be taken to mean that anyone actually wants such eateries here, but is more a matter of legal prudence. The provision of the U.S. Constitution making “interstate commerce” a federal matter has been unfailingly interpreted as forbidding cities and states from treating outside businesses differently from home-owned enterprises. Reversing that would likely require no less than a constitutional amendment.

That legal policy is debatable, but not indefensible; it’s the old “sauce for the goose” problem. Surely, we want locals with a good idea to be able to expand off-island – think T&C, or American Marine Bank – but we don’t want the reverse? The Founding Fathers weren’t completely unreasonable to prevent localities from adopting “exports yes, imports no” policies.

Then there is the individual-action remedy: If you want to support local businesses, shop there. If you don’t want fast food, don’t eat it. But acknowledge that others might want it, and that seeking a legal ban is little more than asking that your personal choices be given the force of law.

Policy aside, back to the legal problem, posed to a community with plenty of bright and legally astute minds: If someone can find an ordinance somewhere, anywhere in the country, that says a locally owned “King’s Burgers” can set up shop in the

community, but a corporate-owned “Burger King” can’t – and find a court decision that upholds it – by all means, bring it forward. Show us that our city won’t be wasting money trying to defend in court the current restrictions against fast-food outlets.

If you can’t, let’s start thinking about where and how we want to hide them.

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