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Santa Barbara Council Ponders Longer Grace Period for Plastic-Bag Ban

Committee considers whether smaller stores should be given more time to meet conditions of the proposed law

Grocery stores of all types and sizes are targeted in a draft ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in Santa Barbara, but smaller ones would be given a longer grace period under rules considered Tuesday by a City Council committee.

Stores of a certain size or sales volume would be prohibited from giving plastic single-use bags to customers, and that restriction would spread to all qualifying stores over time.

Businesses — including grocery stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, food marts and drug stores — that sell milk, bread, soda and snack foods would offer paper bags for 10 cents each. So far, there hasn’t been any support among council members for expanding the scope of the ordinance to nonfood retailers such as clothing or department stores.

Santa Barbara’s proposed ordinance is based one in Los Angeles County, which survived a legal challenge questioning the 10-cent fee for each paper bag since the fee was retained by stores to recoup expenses for the cost of providing those bags.

Santa Barbara may propose starting with stores that are 10,000 square feet or larger, or have at least $2 million in gross annual revenue.

The proposed law, which will be considered again in two weeks, wouldn’t include carryout bags from restaurants or any establishment that sells prepared food, a move intended to avoid the litigation that has occurred in Carpinteria and other communities. It also won’t include bags for produce, meat or bulk items, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags or medications bags.

The goal is to transition people to bringing reusable bags, according to City Attorney Steve Wiley, and the ordinance will rely on the honor system but will have enforcement through audits.

Councilman Randy Rowse said businesses were concerned about the ordinance expanding beyond food stores. Hardware and clothing stores, for example, would look at people bringing in reusable bags and wonder if they were a customer or a shoplifter, he said.

Bigger stores use carryout bags as advertising, he noted, so banning them from handing those out could be an unfair burden when the local economy depends so heavily on retail and the hospitality industry.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which sued the City of Manhattan Beach — and recently Carpinteria — over its bag ban made it “pretty clear that if you don’t do an environmental impact report, (attorney Stephen Joseph) will probably sue you,” Wiley said.

Instead of pursuing one alone, the Santa Barbara council decided to have the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment research the environmental impact report and approach nearby cities to see if they would join the effort. Since so many reports have already been done, the city can do a “Santa Barbara version” of another coastal community’s EIR and address any issues that are unique to this town, Wiley said.

Representatives from local environmental organizations and the California Grocers Association mostly supported the ordinance, but asked for a wider scope to be more equitable across businesses.

“You can’t cherry pick which store can give out a plastic bag,” said Sarah Sheehy of California Grocers, noting that mom-and-pop stores should be under the same regulations as large chain stores.

Environmental Defense Center attorney Nathan Alley argued to ban all single-use bags — period — since it could be more legally-defensible and likely wouldn’t require an EIR.

Gerald Comati of BEACON noted that the Los Angeles County model seems to be the most defensible to date.

BEACON, a joint-powers agency that addresses coastal erosion, beach nourishment and clean oceans from Point Conception to Point Mugu, will be using this draft ordinance as the project description when it approaches other Tri-County cities about joining the bag ban effort with Santa Barbara.

Regions that have similar ordinances in effect have a majority of customers — 70 to 98 percent — using reusable bags instead of using the 10-cent paper bags available, according to Kathi King of the Community Environmental Council.

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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