A prohibition on fast food restaurants in the Third Street Promenade has been retroactively reestablished but Santa Monica’s Planning Commission has asked City Council to revisit the ordinance in 2021.

In November 2018, in order to ensure that the Promenade maintained its authentic characteristics, City Council adopted an urgency Interim Zoning Ordinance (IZO) to prevent the proliferation of fast food restaurants on the Promenade. The ordinance defined a fast-food restaurant as a place where orders are taken at a walk-up window, counter or machine; payment is completed prior to food consumption; and food is served with disposable, one-time, or limited-use wrapping, containers, or utensils; and also banned restaurants and cafes that have more than 100 domestic locations.

The IZO expired on Nov. 26, 2020, with no further extensions possible, staff recently explained in a presentation, which detailed how the recently passed amendments prevent larger chains from dominating the popular downtown shopping area.

Large scale corporations like Taco Bell and Burger King are certainly suited to be tenants who can sign 5- to 10-year leases and withstand the effects of the pandemic. However, there is a belief that the proposed amendments help promote a unique and diverse Promenade experience that is only made possible through locally-based, independent restaurants, according Kathleen Rawson, who spoke on the issue at a City Council meeting this December.

A few weeks earlier, when the Planning Commission first discussed the ordinance, Commissioner Leslie Lambert disagreed with the then-proposed ordinance.

“I absolutely hate this. I think it is elitist and (shows) the Promenade is too special and we’re too special to have a Taco Bell on the Promenade. I am so offended by this I can barely even talk about it,” Lambert said. “And what it does is limit the eating options to people who can’t afford the sushi restaurants on the Promenade. And we have lots of tourists and residents who can’t afford those restaurants.”

Councilmember Phil Brock raised similar concerns during the councils meeting when he spoke on behalf of the local family of four who might not be able to afford a Michelin-starred restaurant. “I want to make sure we have an integrated food service at all price points,” Brock said.

But Planning Commission Chair Shawn Landres said the Commission also had others in mind when he addressed Council this month.

Landres pushed for a plan to make the Promenade accessible to small entrepreneurs, women, people of color, African-Americans and others who need access to places like the Promenade in order to grow. He also drew the council’s attention to the fact that commissioners only approved the ordinance back in October with the assumption that it would return to them to be discussed sometime in the summer.

Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. has already engaged MIG, Inc. to prepare a Third Street Promenade Stabilization & Economic Vitality Plan, which will assess the Promenade’s advantages and challenges in competing for modern retail, restaurant and entertainment uses. “Included in the scope of work is a requirement to identify opportunities to improve community wellbeing through ground floor tenancies with a particular focus on enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion among both patrons and business operators,” a staff report states.

Shortly after receiving assurance that work on the plan is underway, council unanimously agreed to give commissioners a chance to visit the ordinance again once plans are ready in the future.


This article was updated to include the fact that Shawn Landres spoke on behalf of the Planning Commission during the aforementioned City Council meeting.