Pizza Redlining Angers Residents

Germaine Covington hasn't forgotten the late night a few years back when a pizzeria refused to deliver to her Central Area home.

In her eyes it was clearly racist and clearly an outrage.

"For a company to have certain areas they serve and certain areas they refuse to service is nothing short of redlining," says Covington, who heads Seattle's Human Rights Department.

The issue of pizzerias' redlining certain neighborhoods is not a new one. Nor one that civil-rights groups or businesses have been able to resolve, here or elsewhere.

San Francisco recently became the first city in the nation to outlaw such redlining, only to back down under heavy protest from pizza-chain owners and others armed with the knowledge that delivery people have been assaulted, robbed and sometimes killed in the past few years.

And just within the past few weeks, a local Domino's Pizza store curtailed deliveries after dark to the High Point public-housing project in West Seattle because one of its drivers was assaulted.

"Our philosophy is that the security of our people comes first," says Tim McIntyre, a spokesman for Domino's Pizza Inc.

The chain delivers in every city in the country but not necessarily in every neighborhood, says McIntyre. "There are places that a driver is more likely to be a victim than other places. We simply avoid those places."

Domino's, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is not the only national chain that reserves the right to refuse delivery.

Others, too, point to a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study concluding that the riskiest jobs are those in which workers deal with the public, exchange money, and deliver goods and services.

"We have areas in every city in America we can't deliver to, and it's a tough issue for us," says Rob Doughty, spokesman for Pizza Hut, the largest U.S. pizza chain.

Pizza Hut, based in Dallas, uses crime statistics in each city to help determine which areas are off-limits, including 80 in Western Washington, Doughty said. Little Caesars Enterprises says it has a similar policy.

Locally, Pagliacci Pizza says it will deliver anywhere within 10 minutes of its seven outlets. But associate manager Jill Bowerman acknowledged that all Pagliacci's outlets are north of downtown Seattle, and none are in predominantly minority neighborhoods.

Taxicab companies have come under fire from time to time by residents who say cabs would refuse to pick up or deliver fares in certain neighborhoods and at certain hours.

The issue of pizza redlining is drawing renewed interest as the result of the new law in San Francisco.

Earlier this year, a Domino's outlet there refused to deliver to a man in a predominantly black neighborhood. Complaints to City Hall led the city's Board of Supervisors to make it illegal for a business to refuse delivery anywhere within its normal service range.

But earlier this week the law was amended. Now a business may not refuse to deliver on the basis of race but may refuse in order to comply with state and federal safety and health requirements or union contracts, or to avoid putting its employees in what it believes is unreasonable risk of harm.

Even so, San Francisco Supervisor Kevin Shelley maintains: "This legislation will prevent discrimination"

Covington says action against business redlining is long overdue.

"I think this is an outrageous practice. It targets geographic areas as opposed to individual households," she said.

In the West Seattle case, Domino's store manager Linda Broussard said High Point was redlined "because a driver was jumped by two gang members . . . and police advised us not to go there after dark."

McIntyre says Domino's gives franchisees and managers of its 4,300 stores across the nation - including 14 in Seattle and six in Tacoma - freedom to establish their own delivery policies.

Most Domino's outlets are provided computer software that includes caller ID and immediately displays where a call is coming from. Employees can tell, for instance, if customers are ordering from one address and requesting delivery to another, or if a call is being placed from a telephone booth. And employees can identify addresses in high-crime areas.

In some cases, outlets require the customer to meet the delivery car to pick up the pizza. Other neighborhoods get no delivery, period.

"But we always suggest (management) give their entire trade area the benefit of the doubt," McIntyre said.

"The unfortunate reality is that a law-abiding citizen who can't get a delivery is a victim of crime, not a victim of discrimination. If you come to one of our stores and we refuse to sell you a pizza, then that would be discrimination."