There is nothing so useful, so convenient, so inoffensive that it can’t be banned in California. Los Angeles, the largest city in a state that started the fast-food boom, has decided that condiment packets should be treated as a suspicious substance. They haven’t been banned outright, but customers can get ketchup, mustard, relish, and other spreads in their takeout orders only if they request them. The ordinance applies to restaurants with 26 or more employees (apparently a magic sum in the Golden State). It also forbids workers from handing out napkins and plastic utensils with takeout orders unless customers ask for them. By April 2022, all L.A. restaurants will have to comply.
Two months later, the entire state will come under the same limitations. The recently passed Assembly Bill 1276 prohibits “a food facility from providing any single-use foodware accessory or standard condiment, as defined, to a consumer unless requested by the consumer.” The law will apply to both dine-in and takeout orders.
Somehow, we are told, California’s inexhaustible urge to ban virtually any item humans have found worthwhile will help the world avoid the disaster of man-made global warming. “If we are to overcome the extreme climate challenges we face, we will have to alter or otherwise transform all our habits relating to fossil fuel products, including plastics, and our essential natural resources, like forests,” said L.A. councilman Paul Koretz, who coauthored the city’s ordinance. (Note: California produces only about 1 percent of global greenhouse emissions.) Or perhaps the ban will just help clean things up, since Californians are evidently careless and unrepentant litterbugs. “Plastic utensils and condiment packets create unnecessary trash, pollute waterways and harm marine life. CA is changing that!” tweeted assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, co-author of AB1276, last month.
Condiments, napkins, and plastic utensils are joining a lengthy list of consumer products already banned or restricted, including single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, Styrofoam food containers, sales of new gasoline- and diesel-powered automobiles (to end by 2035), new gas stations (in Petaluma and Novato), natural gas connections in new homes (which began in Berkeley), and plastic shampoo bottles in hotels.
Just as rust never sleeps, neither does the political impulse to forbid. In Los Angeles, for instance, the city council’s Public Safety Committee has approved a plan to expand Fire District 1, a tract that includes many of the city’s high-density commercial zones. The move “would effectively ban timber and wood-frame construction in much of the city,” says Pacific Research Institute fellow Nolan Gray. The prohibition would include “many rapidly growing neighborhoods near transit,” forcing developers “to use concrete and steel, building materials that come with substantial added financial and environmental costs.” The stated intent is to improve fire safety, but the move will provide no clear benefits while raising construction costs, Gray says. A Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety review determined that expanding Fire District 1 would raise building material costs by at least 10.6 percent and possibly as much as 47.1 percent. The sharply rising home costs that are sure to follow will price even more people out of a housing market that’s already among the nation’s most expensive.
Unlike most California prohibitions, the building-material ban isn’t a vehicle for virtue-signaling. According to Gray, it’s “being advanced by and for business and labor interests in the concrete industry, which has aggressively promoted the measure as a way to ban competition.” This comes as no surprise, since California policymaking is often shaped by powerful union interests. But bans are bans, and those who must live with their consequences don’t much care what motivates them. For them, the hassle is the same.