WELCOME to a new installment of "What's My Line," where we provide the clues until you can tell us what business we are describing.
1. It attracts long lines of idling cars that emit exhaust fumes contributing to asthma.
2. It serves noisy crowds that blare car stereos with no regard for whom they irritate.
3. It is a late-night magnet for inebriated young adults who are in need of food to sober up.
4. It distributes wrappers, bags and napkins to patrons who litter neighborhood streets.
If your guess is In-N-Out Burger, our guess is that you live in Walnut Creek on either Via del Sol or Sun Valley Drive, within a few hundred yards of the proposed site for the fast-food restaurant at 3131 North Main Street.
Every household on those two streets, or so it seemed, was represented Tuesday night when the Pleasant Hill planning commission conducted a study session on the project. More than two dozen unsmiling attendees spoke during public comment, linking In-N-Out with all of the above problems and more.
One comment spoke for the group: "I can't see any positive aspect of this for us or our property values."
With apologies to the enthusiastic souls who constitute the tea party, there are no political activists quite as ardent as homeowners confronting unwanted change in their neighborhood.
You will remember that Concord residents who live south of the Naval Weapons Station project raised a ruckus about the proposed extension of Denkinger Road. Residents to the north were upset about tall apartment complexes that might block their view of the open space.
Before that, some Walnut Creek residents protested the increased traffic that a Neiman Marcus store in Broadway Plaza would bring. Several Pleasant Hill residents decried the conversion of a former convent into a treatment center for women in recovery from substance dependency.
It's easy to find people opposed to something new. Attend a city council meeting and survey the crowd for scowls.
Because provincialism often is the catalyst for complaint, it would be easy to chalk all this up to a not-in-my-backyard mindset. It would be easy, but it would be unfair because this case a bit extreme.
The Great In-N-Out Debate cannot ignore that the proposed site abuts single-family residences and that the restaurant is famous for bright lights and long lines of drive-through customers arriving until 1 a.m. Nor can it ignore the likelihood that exiting traffic, unable to turn left across a median on North Main, will turn right on Via del Sol and Sun Valley Drive to get redirected north, producing a heavy stream of traffic through a quiet residential neighborhood. In-N-Out expects to serve at least 1,200 cars a day.
Further muddying this mess is that Pleasant Hill will decide the project's fate, while most affected homeowners live in Walnut Creek. One city gets the tax revenues, the other the headaches. How concerned will Pleasant Hill be?
When we first learned of this tempest, we expected that protesters had overreacted, that they were making a Double-Double out of a Happy Meal. But after visiting the site and the neighborhood, we changed our mind. The homeowners have a legitimate beef, if you will pardon the expression.
They might, however, want to more clearly focus their message before lacing up the gloves for round two, a public hearing on Oct. 12. Tuesday's scattergun attack lambasted the project for everything but serving dog meat.
One speaker said a drive-through restaurant in Pleasant Hill contradicted everything she loves about her cozy bedroom community. Trouble is, Pleasant Hill already has seven drive-through restaurants. It lost its virginity thousands of burgers ago.
Several people warned that the U.S. has a national obesity epidemic and that a Double-Double with fries translates to 1,070 calories of fat and sodium. Barring a decision to shut down every pastry shop, ice cream parlor and burger joint, it seems unlikely that city leaders will use this cause to save the nation from overindulgence.
Some residents suggested that In-N-Out Burgers attracted loiterers and miscreants, increasing the likelihood of neighborhood crime. In our limited research, we found no evidence that criminals prefer In-N-Out over McDonald's or Burger King. Aside from which, wouldn't obese criminals be the easiest to catch?
Stick with arguments over exhaust fumes, noise and trash. Actually, you had us at unwanted traffic.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.