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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 4:32 pm | Fair 62º


After State Ban on Plastic Bags Fails, Santa Barbara to Revisit Local Ordinance

The City Council is expected to reconsider its previously shelved plan to survey residents about a tax on single-use bags

After the California State Senate decided last week not to enact a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, thoughts are turning to Santa Barbara and whether local action will be taken in an effort to enact a ban.

According to reports, key lawmakers in the legislature said the measure would be too costly, with just 14 votes received in favor of a ban and 20 opposed.

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 be 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 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 in order 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.

Several months later, city staff recommended that a survey be conducted to find out whether residents were willing to pay a tax on single-use bags, and if so, how much. The council directed city staff to explore the logistics and the cost of conducting such a survey, which raised some eyebrows when it was announced that it could cost as much as $50,000. The City Council decided against awarding the contract then, but it agreed to reconsider it in September.

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.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who has been supportive of a ban, said last week she was disappointed that the California Senate didn’t pass the bill.

“I believe the issue of reducing plastic bag litter, regulating single-use bags and promoting reusable bags would have been most effective on a statewide basis,” she said. “Failure to pass this piece of legislation just underscores the power of the plastics lobbying industry in Sacramento.”

Now the city needs to determine its next steps, Schneider said, and she’ll be working with environmental services staff on the appropriate process.

“I hope and expect that we can schedule a councilwide discussion in the near future,” she said.

One of the groups on record in support of the ban is the Environmental Defense Center, which said it supports a local measure.

“The voluntary fee system encourages a conscientious shift in behavior, while leaving consumers and retailers with options, and avoiding impacts on specific segments of the population,” the group wrote in a statement to Noozhawk. “We are optimistic that the proposed measure will be a win-win-win situation for consumers, retailers and the environment.”

Another group that supported the statewide ban is the California Grocers Association.

“The goal is to move away from a system where all consumers subsidize the considerable costs of single-use bags to a system where consumers can make the economic choice of whether the convenience of single-use bags is worth the expense,” Dave Heylen, the association’s vice president of communications, said in statement put out a few days before the vote was taken in the legislature.

Heylen said eliminating plastic bags isn’t a question of if, but when.

“Already, several California localities have said they will pass plastic bag bans immediately if AB 1998 fails,” he said in the statement, adding that more than 70 cities are considering enacting bans.

But some local residents, including two members of the City Council, say they oppose the ban and any local action.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss talked with Noozhawk last week and said he is against the ban for multiple reasons.

He said he’s “totally against any new taxes that cost people more money than they’re already pressed to pay,” adding that he wouldn’t vote for the survey. He called the ban “divisive,” and said it probably unfairly weighed against people of lower incomes.

“Anecdotally, you see a lot more reusable bags at places like Trader Joe’s than you do with customers in less affluent places,” he said.

Putting a burden on shoppers could potentially drive business out of the city and to places such as Goleta, where a ban hasn’t been considered, according to Hotchkiss. He said he’s dubious about the environmental benefits as well, adding that he wouldn’t vote to put the item on the ballot in November.

Councilwoman Michael Self, who also opposed the ban in the past, didn’t elaborate much on her stance, but she said the state may have considered how many jobs would be lost because of the ban.

The survey is expected to go before the City Council in September.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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