Austin, Texas’s La Barbecue is moving. Abandoning a trailer home, it will occupy the storefront being vacated by Wahoo’s Fish Taco.
Where are we going? To how government regulate’s smells.
The BBQ Aroma
The Austin City Council might require that barbecue establishments located within 150 feet of residential neighborhoods install smoke scrubbers. After receiving multiple complaints about backyards with constant BBQ odor, the council said the smell could diminish the quality of life. (Some people I know would disagree.)
One business owner pointed out the expense. Saying scrubbers could cost him $20,000, he said he would have to leave town if forced to install them.
Austin is not unique. Irwindale California residents said that Huy Fong’s processing plant for Sriracha’s peppers created a “public nuisance” and worse. With their eyes tearing and throats burning and some attributing their heartburn, asthma and nosebleeds to the pungent jalapeno odor, they went to court. Initially an LA municipal court judge declared that the odors were, “reasonably inferred to be emanating from the facility.” As a result, he said that the facility will have to partially close. But it did not. Huy Fong installed filters and the suit was dropped.
Here is a nasal ranger that municipalities use to measure odor intensity.
Our Bottom Line: Municipal Regulation
Limiting the amount of odor from food production can be called quantity regulation. It affects how much by proclaiming restrictions that are based on the location of the food truck or restaurant or factory. An alternative is Pigovian regulation through which taxes target the undesirable behavior.
Which is better? To decide, economists compare the the cost that each approach imposes on the parties that are involved as well as the positive and negative externalities.
Worried about losing jobs and good food, Austin’s City Council has already said it will make its smell test easier when it makes a decision during a July 2015 meeting.