The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to approve a ban on single-use plastic bags after denying an appeal filed against the environmental report for the proposal.
The city has been moving toward a ban since 2009, when it started developing a model ordinance and coordinated a regional environmental report with BEACON (Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment) that has cities as members throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Many other local cities have decided to use Santa Barbara’s ordinance as a model for their own, so they can use the same EIR as a base, city staff said.
The Planning Commission certified the final environmental impact report, but that decision was appealed by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a group that has been suing cities all over California related to bag bans.
Stephen Joseph spoke for the coalition and argued that paper bag use would go “through the roof” with the ban, which the EIR didn’t consider.
He also argued that certain calculations of reusable bag usage and environmental impacts were false. Plastic bags don’t pose a threat to marine mammals, he said.
“What’s in the body of the EIR is just plain wrong,” he said.
City Attorney Steve Wiley said he was sure the coalition would sue the city just as it has sued many others, but the issue would probably be resolved before the ordinance would go into effect anyway.
Stores that are 10,000 square feet or larger (such as supermarkets and pharmacies) will have 180 days from the effective date to comply, and smaller stores will have a year.
Bag ban ordinances focus on food stores such as supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and other stores that sell food items including milk, bread, soda and snack foods.
Public comment was overwhelmingly in support of the ban, and most speakers were part of local environmental groups such as Surfrider, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Save the Mermaids and the Community Environmental Council.
Santa Barbara alone uses 47 million plastic single-use bags a year, and there’s no way residents have a need for that many for trash-can liners or picking up after pets, said Kathy King of the Community Environmental Council.
She said the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition is using “stall tactics” to delay a ban ordinance.
Kate Nelson, co-founder of Save the Mermaids, said plastic pollution is a serious threat to the ocean environment because it doesn’t biodegrade. Plastic bags are a “design flaw in our efforts to be more convenient,” she said.
Others told the council that plastic bags are a top six item found in beach and creek cleanups throughout the city and cause problems at the Tajiguas Landfill when they get caught by the wind.
Resident Bonnie Raisin spoke against the ban, saying people should have the choice to use whatever bags they want.
The City Council voted 6-0 to deny Joseph’s appeal and approve the ordinance, which will come back for official adoption at a future meeting and start the clock on compliance dates.
“Sometimes things outlive their usefulness,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said, adding that single-use plastic bags need to be retired.
Councilman Dale Francisco said he had serious reservations about facts in the EIR, but believed that was typical for such a report. On the issue of plastic bag impacts on the environment, “the facts are very hard to find,” he said.
Pursuing a regional effort did save the city money, letting it put in $8,000 toward the $66,000 cost instead of funding one on its own, he noted.
City environmental staff said they will work with local stores to comply with the ordinance, and could work with the hospitality and business community to inform tourists of the ban.
There are 20 “Tier 1” stores in the city, 62 “Tier 2 cities” with a year to comply, and 18 that the city is still figuring out, environmental services manager Matt Fore said.
The ordinance will ban single-use plastic carryout bags and require stores to charge 10 cents per paper bag. Stores will have to report to the city on the number of bags given out, money taken in, and educational efforts to reduce bag use.