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Santa Barbara Council to Pick Up Plastic Bag Ban, Determine Next Steps

New council majority expected to weigh in on previous plan for ordinance requiring 'Where's Your Bag?' program participation, bag tax ballot measure

The controversy over single-use plastic bags will be back before the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday with the new council majority expected to signal support for a plan to ban the bags.

Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilman Grant House have requested that the item return to the council for discussion.

Schneider said the timing was important because city staff is about to return to the ordinance committee to start writing rules mandating that retail and other stores share in the components of the city’s voluntary “Where’s Your Bag?” program. The previous council had approved that direction last summer while also agreeing to allow voters to decide whether a special tax should be imposed on single-use plastic or paper bags, or both.

On Tuesday, the council will be asked to reconsider the direction for the ordinance and the ballot measure, which is planned for the 2013 municipal election.

“Grant and I thought that the council should reassess whether this is the best policy approach or not,” Schneider said. “We did not want the Environmental Services and City Attorney’s staff to waste time preparing a draft ordinance and preparing for an ordinance committee meeting on an item that may no longer be the preferred direction of the council majority.”

There have been a number of legal rulings since the council last considered the issue, said Schneider, who added that other California cities and counties have approved their own bans.

The state Supreme Court last July upheld the city of Manhattan Beach’s plastic bag ordinance. According to a Santa Barbara city staff report, 40 jurisdictions in California also regulate single-use bags with San Jose and Marin County having enacted ordinances as recently as early this year.

Santa Barbara wouldn’t be the first South Coast city to approve a ban if the council moves ahead Tuesday. The Carpinteria City Council voted unanimously last October to ban all single-use bags in the community.

Last summer, some Santa Barbara council members expressed concern about the cost of conducting an environmental impact report for the ordinance. Since then, the group Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment, or BEACON, has offered to share the cost of an environmental study, which would significantly reduce the cost borne by the city.

The California Grocers Association has also expressed support for regulations modeled after a new San Luis Obispo County ordinance that bans plastic check-out bags and places a minimum 10-cent charge for paper checkout bags in supermarkets, pharmacies, large stores and convenience stores.

In 2009, Santa Barbara launched an educational program called “Where’s Your Bag?” that encouraged shoppers to use reusable bags. The city initially recruited 10 local grocery stores to participate, and 7,100 reusable bags have since been distributed free of charge as part of the voluntary program.

“However, education within the grocery stores has proved to be ineffective,” a staff report read. “Despite initial enthusiasm from participating stores at the onset of the program, most stores did not incorporate all of the program elements into their daily operations, and did not see the hoped for behavior change by store patrons.”

Exceptions were Lazy Acres, 302 Meigs Road; Scolari’s Food & Drug, 222 N. Milpas St.; and Tri-County Produce, 335 S. Milpas St., where store managers worked closely with staff to implement all program elements, according to the report. The stores have noticed an increase in reusable bag usage by customers, the say.

“It was time for us all to get an update and give staff direction on where to go based on this new information,” Schneider said. “I personally think it is time the city of Santa Barbara support a reasonable single-use bag ban, similar to ones adopted by dozens of cities, counties, states and countries.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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