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Santa Barbara Council Votes to Proceed with Plan for Carrying Out Plastic Bag Ban

Members support Mayor Helene Schneider's suggestion of drafting an ordinance that could serve as a model for the region

“Would you like to buy a bag?”

The phrase is now familiar in many California cities, and Santa Barbara could be added to the list of those to ban plastic bags from stores and require merchants to charge for paper or reusable bags.

There are 19 jurisdictions in California with plastic bag bans, and many have been legally challenged but are pending rulings in Courts of Appeal. Some lawsuit-avoidance tips from city staff members included conducting an environmental impact report, exempting restaurants from the ban and steering clear of tax-related restrictions.

The bans wouldn’t apply to product bags for meat or vegetables; restaurants; newspaper bags; dry cleaning bags; or prescription drug bags.

Santa Barbara has been considering a bag ban for years, given the number of them that end up as litter, the impact on the environment and the pure volume dumped every year in the Tajiguas Landfill.

Voluntary, education-focused efforts through the “Where’s Your Bag?” campaign encourage residents to bring reusable bags on shopping trips, especially to supermarkets, and try to get stores involved. Only three are participating, though: Tri-County Produce, Lazy Acres and Scolari’s.

Tri-County owner John Dixon encourages customers to bring reusable bags and gives 5 cents to charity for each one — donating more than $7,000 so far. Reusable bag use has increased 60 percent, he said, and he supports continuing with voluntary efforts, not increasing government regulation with a ban. He noted that a yearlong grace period would allow stores to use up bags already ordered.

Nearby, San Luis Obispo County banned plastic checkout bags from large stores and requires a 10-cent charge for a paper one. Santa Barbara would pursue a similar model.

Santa Barbara City Council members said Tuesday it was unfortunate that Carpinteria acted alone and passed a “fairly radical” bag ban ordinance Monday night.

Since BEACON — the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment — offered to do the EIR for its coverage area of Point Mugu north to Point Conception, Santa Barbara Councilman Dale Francisco advocated for a regional bag ban approach. Whichever cities wanted to participate could draft an ordinance, share in the EIR cost and make sure ordinances were implemented at the same time so merchants weren’t disadvantaged.

Mayor Helene Schneider argued the approach would delay any solutions, and that the city should draft an ordinance that could be a model for the region, then have BEACON do the environmental review.

The City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to pursue Schneider’s approach, with the caveat that it’s the city’s intention to come up with a common ordinance that a majority of BEACON members could adopt simultaneously.

“I don’t think environmental consciousness is enhanced by an ordinance,” Councilman Randy Rowse said, adding that a regional approach with more legal clarity would be the best option.

School and environmental group members said hundreds of plastic bags are found in creek and beach cleanups locally.

Surfrider’s Bill Hickman said the bags’ impact on the waste stream and environment can be solved with reusable bags. Though Gold Coast allows residents to put the bags in curbside recycling bins, he said, the company sorts and sells the recycled materials from its facility, not necessarily to be recycled.

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition attorney Stephen Joseph complimented the council on the “balanced” conversation, but questioned whether the city really has a problem. He argued that plastic bag bans are confusing to tourists, who wouldn’t know about the rules ahead of time, and that the city’s statistics about the environmental impact of plastic bags should include paper bags as well.

Joseph also spoke at the Carpinteria meeting and said banning restaurant take-out bags in its ordinance would lead to litigation.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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