Saturday, November 28 , 2015, 3:44 pm | Mostly Cloudy 61º

Santa Barbara Council Shelves Decision on Bag-Tax Survey

Divided on the issue, city leaders decide to give current efforts to reduce use more time to work, and will resume the discussion this summer

Scott Walker, a UCSB student and organizer of a Tuesday rally to support putting a city bag tax on the November ballot, talks with Councilman Das Williams outside City Hall before the council meeting.
Scott Walker, a UCSB student and organizer of a Tuesday rally to support putting a city bag tax on the November ballot, talks with Councilman Das Williams outside City Hall before the council meeting.  (Ben Preston / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli and Ben Preston, Noozhawk Staff Writers |

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday postponed any action regarding a single-use bag survey and tax given the polarized positions of those on the dais.

The council directed staff to look into conducting a public opinion survey about a tax on single-use bags in retail establishments. The amount of the tax, distinction between a per-bag or per-visit fee, and other factors would be part of the survey — the purpose of which would be to gauge voter opinion.

The preferred bid, a $23,319 proposal by research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, would be funded by solid waste fund user fees. The cost of putting the tax directly onto the November ballot would cost $40,000 to $50,000 and require a unanimous vote by the council — unlikely given the opinions voiced Tuesday.

While Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Das Williams firmly supported putting the measure on the ballot, the other members opposed either the survey, the idea of a bag tax — or both.

In recent months, the city’s “Where’s Your Bag?” campaign has been working on an educational, voluntary effort to reduce single-use plastic and paper grocery bag usage in the city through store partnerships.

Williams noted the possibility of revenue to the city and reduced environmental effects as benefits to the tax.

Tri-County Produce provides the only real bag-use data within the city, since stores aren’t required to disclose recycling statistics to municipalities.

Tri-County owner John Dixon said about 39 percent of his customers use reusable bags, but he doesn’t support a tax — even an avoidable one. Although it most likely would reduce his costs as a grocer, he said he doesn’t support passing the costs onto the customer.

Using state numbers, Santa Barbara is estimated to use about 47 million single-use bags per year, or about 500 per person per year, environmental services supervisor Stephen MacIntosh said Tuesday.

Some members of the public spoke in favor of the tax — and any measure to reduce bag use — saying it would be an incentive for people to change their habits.

A group of about 15 people — complete with a bongo drummer and a man playing Pink Floyd tunes on an acoustic guitar — calling for the tax to be put directly onto the ballot assembled outside City Hall in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.

Williams, a longtime proponent of removing plastic bags from the waste stream, said the rest of the council wouldn’t go for it without a community survey on whether the tax should go on the ballot.

Scott Walker, a UCSB student and graduate of the university’s Blue Horizons summer media program, received a grant from the Associated Students Coastal Fund to create a public-service announcement about the detrimental nature of single-use bags.

While the group targeted plastic bags as the most environmentally harmful among single-use grocery bags, Walker said his group supports a tax on both paper and plastic bags to avoid legal action from industry lobbyists.

“The ultimate goal is to get a ban, but right now we’re trying for a bag tax,” Walker said. “It’s a voluntary tax. You can use reusable bags and not get taxed.”

Representatives of the Surfrider Foundation, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of the city’s efforts to use voluntary educational efforts to reduce use and advocated for any measure to further the effort.

Ideally, citizens would vote for the fee, then not pay it because they want an environmental change, said Nathan Alley of the Environmental Defense Center.

It’s possible the tax could be placed on the ballot through a citizen initiative, which would require signatures from about 10 percent of voters but no environmental review process. Schneider encouraged advocates of the effort to reduce bag use to pursue an initiative, since the future of council action is uncertain.

Councilman Dale Francisco said he wouldn’t support “blowing another $23,000 on consultants,” but that he would support putting it on the ballot — even though he doesn’t support the tax itself.

Other members agreed, saying the city’s fiscal environment made the survey’s price tag a deal breaker, so that current efforts — through voluntary participation — should be given more time to get results.

Councilman Grant House said he hasn’t received any information as to why the tax would be important or imminent for the council to take up.

The City Council will resume its discussion of the issue in July.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Noozhawk staff writer Ben Preston can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

comments powered by Disqus

» on 03.31.10 @ 05:53 AM

Finally the City Council is showing some common sense despite Das Williams.

» on 03.31.10 @ 10:01 AM

Tax or voluntary.  Bad habits are killing people and our planet.  We need to set an example as a future thinking community and if a bag tax is necessary to get people to do the right thing, so be it.

» on 03.31.10 @ 10:44 AM

Forget the waste of money on a survey. Forget the tax. Ban the use of these bags. Period.

» on 03.31.10 @ 12:34 PM

Tri-Counties Produce ROCKS! They give reusable bag users a “ticket” worth 5 cents for each reusable bag…and then the shopper gets to “pick” a charity to contribute the ticket to on the spot.

It is a wonderful idea and it has been the one thing that works for me.  “The Environment” is too big a box…but contributing money directly to the SB County Foodbank or Casa Esperanza every time I shop is FUN!

Go, Jim Dixon, you really know how to use positive incentives.

» on 03.31.10 @ 01:30 PM

Shoulda seen Das yesterday - looked like little boy who’d got his face slapped.  Thank you, rational members of the Council obviously not including Das and predictably taxandspend Helene, for voting this down.

» on 03.31.10 @ 01:46 PM

Well, here’s the thing for me.  Money is tighter in my house, too, but I don’t have anyone to tax in order to loosen my budget, so I have to start cutting things that were extravagances to begin with (the cable bill, the extra fridge, eating out… get the picture).  So, how about the City starts with cutting down on extravagances such as the retirement packages for their employees?  The police union could vote to change their package to loosen up funds and keep all their fellow officers employed, as could City firefighters.  But has anyone shown any willingness to go down that road at all?  So far, the answer is no.  I don’t understand that.

» on 03.31.10 @ 02:28 PM

Reusing your bags not only helps the environment save on natural resources, but keeps the city streets clean. I’ve been using my Paper Nor Plastic reusable bags and have been making a statement for years. Get yours at

» on 03.31.10 @ 02:32 PM

The city is in dire straits financially, due in part by the current economic downturn, but mostly for doing the stupidest thing I can think of, driving real and stable industry out of town and then building up the fair weather hospitality industry. Nice move SB. So to remedy 40 years of stupid planning they decide to do a bag tax. My God what idiots! Oh wait, isn’t that the same lame and stupid philosophy our federal government is taking? That’s right and local, state and federal government are all run by the left now. Bankrupt city, bankrupt, state and now a bankrupt country. Hmmmm, nice going lefties!

BTW, GiGi, you really are a dunce girl. Go read ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’, and you will get a real interesting perspective on forcing people to behave the way you think they should.  All law meant to effect behavior is at the point of a gun people and NO buying a freaking plastic bag is not hurting the damned planet. Jeeze does anyone ever really study science anymore?

» on 03.31.10 @ 02:50 PM

Dale Francisco is correct in the view that it is a waste of $ to do such a survey.  The only purpose of this is to give cover to politicians and city staff who haven’t the courage to face the need for banning these pollutants.  Put it on the ballot (or better yet offer it as a voter referendum or initiative) and let us decide.

» on 03.31.10 @ 03:27 PM

Liberal pollitical correctness—Poor Das, and Helene.

No new taxes for the unions—

» on 03.31.10 @ 08:38 PM

Don’t kid yourself, a lib is a lib is a lib. They’ll be back as soon as this blows over with the same tax in a new package. Just look a health care, they never give up pushing the same turd in your face whether you like it or not.

» on 04.01.10 @ 02:08 AM

AN50.  You hurt me with your words.  I’d rather you didn’t use this forum for calling people “dunces” just because they see the world differently than you do.  I want less plastic in the world and more civil discourse.  Will you join me in the latter, AN50, if not the former?

» on 04.01.10 @ 03:19 AM

These tax and spend liberals are nuts, and do they really care about you—NO—union gov jobs—They are paid off..shills..puppets..Das-Helene-Grant..

People they are serVants of the people—You—they work for you at 100K a year..Not right I know..Cut the servants down soon???

» on 04.01.10 @ 09:06 PM

Our city council has way to much time on their hands.  The city is going bankrupt, more commercial vacancies pop up daily, and our leaders have time to think about an additional tax on the remaining businesses?  The council should be a part time job with no pay and maybe they would do no harm.

» on 04.06.10 @ 10:19 PM

Thank goodness for the common sense of Michael, Dale and Frank!  I think Santa Barbara is really starting to see the importance of having them on the City Council.  They are just what we need, City Councilmembers that are watching out for Santa Barbara.  A big thank you to them.

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