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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 10:38 pm | Fair 51º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Council Hands Off Drafting of Bag Tax to Ordinance Committee

The council votes unanimously to support a citywide tax in an effort to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags

The days of widespread use of plastic bags in Santa Barbara stores could be numbered, if Tuesday’s unanimous vote by the City Council is any indication.

The council agreed to have the Ordinance Committee hammer out the details of a citywide bag tax and come back with a workable solution. Ultimately though, voters would have to approve the tax with a two-thirds vote. The ordinance also would need to undergo an environmental impact report to avoid potential lawsuits, and the cost of that document — unknown at this point — could be a tough sell to some members of the council.

Santa Barbara wouldn’t be alone in that effort, however. Other cities have had to do their own environmental impact reports, and Santa Monica and San Jose are among a handful of cities that have adopted bans. Currently, Santa Barbara residents can recycle plastic bags with grocery store programs, but there is no curbside recycling available for the bags.

Local attention to the issue comes in the wake of a failed attempt to ban plastic bags statewide. The California State Senate decided last fall not to enact a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags.

The Assembly bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 1998, would have prohibited supermarkets from providing single-use plastic bags to customers, though paper bags would have been available for no less than 5 cents each. Even the paper bags provided would have had a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. The bill would have gone into effect for supermarkets on Jan. 1, 2012, and in 2013 for convenience stores. Customers could have avoided the tax by bringing in reusable grocery bags.

At the local level, the Santa Barbara City Council supported AB 1998, and it even advocated that the bill be made stronger, with higher fees for the bags to reduce use.

The idea of cutting down on single-use bags has received support from several organizations, including Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the California Grocers Association, which partnered with the city during the “Where’s Your Bag?” campaign that kicked off in August 2009.

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

Of the nine public speakers during Tuesday’s council meeting, all were behind the idea of reducing the use of plastic bags.

Tri-County Produce owner John Dixon said his customers get a ticket for each reusable bag they bring, worth 5 cents that then can be donated toward six charities. He said the program has earned $3,500 for local charities and has increased the number of people using reusable bags in the store. He said he hopes that if the issue can’t be taken up statewide, that it will be examined at a county level.

“Everyone can solve this problem by bringing a bag,” Dixon said.

Councilman Grant House said that people entering his sewing machine stores have responded to the “Where’s Your Bag?” stickers placed by the cash register. And Councilman Bendy White said he’s disappointed that the Santa Barbara community has to be “dragged” into the effort.

“We’re not moving fast enough,” he said.

Mayor Helene Schneider read a statement that Assemblywoman Julia Brownley sent to the city, in which Brownley encouraged local governments to move forward on the bans so that momentum can gather and eventually change state policy.

“A statewide ban is the way to go,” Schneider said. “If the way to get there is with a city by city basis, we should be a part of that.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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