Why have some California cities banned drive-thrus? Placer County city wouldn’t be the first

Lincoln is the latest city in California to consider a drive-thru ban, but it is far from the first.

Commissioners in the Placer County town unanimously voted last week to adopt a resolution which would ban future “businesses with drive-thrus from occupying space in the city’s downtown, including restaurants, banks and pharmacies,” The Sacramento Bee reported.

Though drive-thrus were a lifeline for fast food restaurants during the pandemic, they also pose traffic, health and environmental concerns.

Why are cities banning drive-thru restaurants?

California is one of the top drive-thru states, according to a report from the Quantum Real Estate Advisors, a real estate advisory company.

However, cities throughout the state have implemented or started conversations about drive-thru bans, which are largely focused on improving quality of life for city residents and curbing carbon emissions.

In Lincoln, talks of drive-thru bans are being considered to eliminate traffic jams and long lines on the road, The Bee reported.

San Luis Obispo, a city on the Central Coast, has had a ban on drive-thrus for about 40 years. A city spokesperson told The San Luis Obispo Tribune in an August story that, “drive-through facilities were considered inappropriate due to air-quality impacts of idling cars waiting for services.”

California cities with drive-thru bans

The first drive-thru location in California was in Southern California’s suburban city of Baldwin Park, according to the California State Library. The In-N-Out opened in October 1948. Ironically, in 2010 the city temporarily banned new drive-thrus in an effort to curb obesity levels in the city and control traffic congestion, according to the American Planning Association.

“When the ‘obesity epidemic’ became a national conversation in the 2000s, another wave of bans unfurled, most notably in Los Angeles, which in 2008 instituted a ban in several low-income neighborhoods on the city’s south side, where obesity rates were particularly high,” the association stated.

While the reasoning changed, some cities across the state continued to move toward drive-thru free spaces.

Sebastopol in Sonoma County, for example in 2015, banned new drive-thrus in the city, citing “greenhouse gases and works against pedestrian-oriented development,” the Press Democrat reported.

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