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Santa Barbara Ordinance Committee Moves to Bag Proposed Ban on Bags

It votes to uphold the status quo, allowing retailers to use paper and plastic bags, but the City Council will have the final say

The Santa Barbara Ordinance Committee voted Tuesday to uphold the status quo of allowing plastic bags to be used in the city’s retail establishments. The City Council ultimately will make a decision on whether to ban the bags.

The three-member committee voted to take no action on the ban, in effect allowing retailers to continue to distribute plastic and paper bags without restriction. The city will continue with its “Where’s Your Bag?” education program that encourages residents to use reusable bags when they shop. The committee voted 2-1, with Councilman Grant House dissenting.

Murmurings of a ban have been going around since at least 2009, when Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the California Grocers Association partnered with the city to launch the campaign.

Some city leaders were disappointed when the California State Senate decided last year not to enact a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, leaving municipalities to wrestle with the issue.

A host of cities are in the pipeline, at various stages of banning the bags, but the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a plastic industry group, has sued a number of them, including Marin County and the cities of Manhattan Beach and Oakland.

Marin County put forward an ordinance that would ban plastic bags and impose a five-cent fee on paper bags, and hasn’t conducted an environmental impact report. City staff reports say the decision in the Manhattan Beach case is pending a decision by the California Supreme Court, while Oakland lost the California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit filed against it.

During public comment Tuesday, Tri-County Produce owner John Dixon said he has seen use of reusable bags increase 36 percent since joining the “Where’s Your Bag?” program. He donates five cents to a local charity for each reusable bag that customers bring, and so far has donated $4,200.

When people actually bring in their own bags, “I love that,” he said.

Kathi King, partner of the “Where’s Your Bag?” program, said the group conducted surveys while out on State Street handing out free bags.

“More than 50 percent of responders said that they want to remember their bag, but they need help with that,” she said. “That’s the perfect role for government here.”

Committee member and Councilman Frank Hotchkiss was dubious of such a ban, saying it wouldn’t apply to the plastic bags used for produce or raw meats, leaving a lot of plastic unaffected.

“We’re really not affecting most of the bags,” he said, adding that plastic represents 1 percent of landfill waste.

Without an environmental impact report, the city can expect a legal challenge. If it decides to go forward with an EIR, it could cost the city thousands of dollars.

“In either case, it’s costing the city money,” Hotchkiss said.

Councilman Randy Rowse said that as an ocean user, he’s concerned about plastics.

“The plastic bag is the low-hanging fruit,” he said, adding that plastic packaging covers many things people purchase. “That’s the stuff that ends up in the landfill.”

Concern about the legal risks also was noted by Rowse. “There (are cases) out there right now, that are pending, that we don’t even know about,” he said, adding that a regional decision would be the most helpful.

House said pressure from the city would make a difference, and that the city hasn’t heard much outcry from the larger grocers.

“The plastic bag industry, on the other hand, is watching,” he said.

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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