“Bag it, city – fast food law needs to go”

"'Tis the season of giving. But not even our spirit of holiday generosity makes us feel good about spending $115,000 of taxpayer money to defend the city's fast-food ordinance against Papa Murphy's pizza store.The problem is not that the city capitulated before a superior court judge could decide the case.Nor is the problem the interpretations of the planning director and the hearing examiner to the effect Papa Murphy's is formula take-out food, and therefore not permitted in the Village shopping center.The problem is the ordinance itself. While the settlement didn't decide its validity, the law looks legally indefensible. "

  • Saturday, December 23, 2000 1:00pm
  • News

“‘Tis the season of giving. But not even our spirit of holiday generosity makes us feel good about spending $115,000 of taxpayer money to defend the city’s fast-food ordinance against Papa Murphy’s pizza store.The problem is not that the city capitulated before a superior court judge could decide the case.Nor is the problem the interpretations of the planning director and the hearing examiner to the effect Papa Murphy’s is formula take-out food, and therefore not permitted in the Village shopping center.The problem is the ordinance itself. While the settlement didn’t decide its validity, the law looks legally indefensible.The ordinance singles out those businesses that sell formula take-out food. That’s a two-part definition, involving both what a business does – sells take-out food – and who the business is – a franchise.When the city passed the fast-food ordinance in 1991 after McDonald’s opened, the motive was to keep the island from becoming just like every place else. In order to encourage local businesses, we set up different rules for franchises.While the goal may be laudable, the method is illegal. It has been settled constitutional doctrine for over 200 years that the country is one integrated national economy rather than numerous local economies. And while that principle has its drawbacks – namely, the uniformity and blandness of fare, epitomized by fast-food eateries, that the island fears – we benefit every day from the proliferation of goods and services and the lower prices that a national economy produces.It’s no good to point out that one area of the city is zoned for businesses under franchise ownership. Obviously, the city could not relegate businesses owned by, say, women or some other group, to one side of town. Legally, the franchise or non-franchise distinction is no more valid.We think it’s time to get rid of the who they are distinction between franchises and non-franchises. The city will lose on that issue every time it goes to court. And at $100,000-plus a pop, even once more is too often.The city is certainly entitled to regulate appearances – design, size, lighting, signs – to keep local roadsides free of neon dairy maidens and giant back-lit hamburgers. If a franchise decides that it won’t alter its standards to comply, then it can stay away. But if the franchise is willing to conform, there is no legal basis for keeping it out.And the city can regulate location. It doesn’t have to allow takeout food outlets everywhere on the island. But it can’t make one rule for a locally owned takeout restaurant, and a different rule for a franchise.Does that mean that Bainbridge will have to be like every place else, even it keeps a distinctive look? We trust not. If the community doesn’t want franchises, there’s a sure-fire solution: Vote with your wallet. So welcome, Mike Cooper and Papa Murphy’s. If the community wants your product, you’ll be a valued addition.As for us, we’re calling in our pizza order to That’s A Some. “

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