Not lovin’ it

Oak Park residents near the UC Davis Medical Center turn attentions to a proposed Golden Arches

A year-long fight to stop yet another fast-food restaurant from popping up in Oak Park hinges—oddly—on the fate of a drive-thru window.

Last summer, when plans to build a McDonald’s franchise on a vacant lot at Second Avenue and Stockton Boulevard near the UC Davis Medical Center plaza were unveiled, the possibility of Ronald and his Happy Meals moving in had some residents rather unhappy.

But, as the fight over access to healthy food in Oak Park continues, the real issue facing the Sacramento Planning Commission has nothing to do with the nutritional value of McDonald’s menus. Instead, it’s all about drive-thru traffic in a popular pedestrian area.

The city Community Development Department has made it clear to McDonald’s that it will not support a drive-thru. Yet McDonald’s has not modified its application to the city, which will review the CDD’s report and hear testimony from McDonald’s and residents before voting on whether to approve, deny, or continue negotiations in October.

“We know the community’s opposed to it,” explained city planner Greg Bitter. “They’re opposed to it for many reasons, not all of which are reasons we are opposed to it.”

McDonald’s would not confirm or deny whether they would abort plans if the drive-thru was denied. But 10-year CDD veteran Bitter said he couldn’t remember the last time McDonald’s built a location without a drive-thru in Sacramento.

The proposed Oak Park McDonald’s surrounding neighborhood is home to a lot of hospital employees, many of whom are leading the opposition against McDonald’s. Hasan Khashwji, a med student who lives directly across from the site on Second Avenue, said his primary motivation was nutritional.

“We don’t need another unhealthy option,” Khashwji argued. “There’s enough of it around here.” He also pointed out that a pediatric obesity clinic is located a few buildings down from the proposed McDonald’s site.

Other neighbors and local businesses who were first informed of McDonald’s plans to build in September 2010, rallied against the idea.

“We want something that is going to exemplify the historic nature of Oak Park,” said Charlene Hauser of Healthy Development for Oak Park, “[something] that people can walk to and not drive through.”

The proposed McDonald’s would be built on a lot that has been vacant more than 20 years and create an estimated 55 new jobs in the struggling neighborhood.

According to an economic impact study done by Sacramento State professor Dennis Tootalian, McDonald’s restaurants in the greater Sacramento area returned 47 cents of every dollar to the local community in 2010.

And, while there is a dispute over whether the Golden Arches are a good fit, everyone seems to be in agreement that the vacant lot needs attention.

“I would like some kind of business to get in there and create some jobs,” said neighborhood homeowner Talia Stein. “Ideally, it would be something healthy for the community.”

This sentiment is not lost on Bitter.

“We’d like to get something in there,” he assured. “Leaving vacant lots around the city isn’t what we do.”