The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will consider putting out a voter survey on a possible tax for single-use paper or plastic bags.

The tax could generate income for the city, according to city staff, and would apply only to retail stores larger than 30,000 square feet.

The survey, if approved, would ask voters about the tax and ask how much they would be willing to pay. 

The city launched its “Where’s Your Bag?” campaign earlier this year, a program designed to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags with them when they shop.

The city’s Solid Waste Committee recommended the survey in November, and staff reports say the cost of the survey is not to exceed $50,000.

“The average person uses over 500 paper and plastic bags per year, and only a small percentage of each type of bag is recycled,” according to the report, which also says other municipalities have tried to tax single-use bags with limited success. 

San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Malibu have adopted ordinances prohibiting distribution of plastic bags, but a number have been successfully sued by plastic-bag manufacturers on the basis that prohibitions were “projects” subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.

Voter initiatives, which aren’t subject to CEQA, might be one way to get a bag tax on a ballot.

Efforts to regulate bag use at the state level, which included a bill to impose a 25-cent tax on single-use bags, have stalled in the legislature.

The staff report also cites an example where Seattle developed a ballot measure that would have placed a 20-cent tax on paper and plastic bags in the city. The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastic bag manufacturers, spent more than $1 million in opposition to the measure, which was eventually defeated.

If the move is approved Tuesday, the city’s finance director would select a vendor to conduct the survey and return to the council to approve the contract.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.