The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to ban the use of plastic straws, stirrers and other cutlery items.
However, after a barrage of criticism from national media outlets, the city removed the potential misdemeanor penalty associated with violations of the law.
“We removed all of the criminal language from the ordinance,” said Environmental Services Manager Rene Eyerly.
The ban is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.
The move comes after AB 1884, statewide legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which requires business owners to provide plastic straws on a demand-only basis at full-service restaurants.
Santa Barbara is following the lead of nine other cities in California, including Santa Monica, Malibu and Manhattan Beach, that have banned single-use plastic straws or have made them on-demand only.
Penny Owens, education and community outreach coordinator for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, said the ban is “a critical tool” to reducing plastic pollution in the ocean.
“We look forward to finding fewer and fewer of these single-use plastic items in our creeks and beaches,” Owens said.
She also said the ordinance will help the city meet its stormwater compliance requirements.
Although the city removed the misdemeanor language for food and beverage providers who give out straws, Eyerly said the national media controversy over the summer was a “misunderstanding” of how local enforcement works.
The council in August first voted to ban the plastic straws, but delayed a final vote until Tuesday so that it could take a closer look at the ordinance.
Restaurants that provided the plastic straws would be subject to a warning notice followed by a possible administrative penalty of “$100 or $250,” Eyerly said.
The ordinance provides an exception for people who have a medical disability and need to use plastic straws.
Councilman Randy Rowse voted against the ordinance. He said that the city doesn’t need a law to force people not to use plastic straws. He said the city passed a smoking ban for beaches and people can still find cigarette butts on the beach.
He added that most people already agree that single-use plastic straws are not necessary so there’s no need to ban them.
“We have complicated things,” Rowse said. “We have wasted an embarrassing amount of staff time. We are trying to dictate through a law I don’t know what the purpose of that is.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo supported the straw ban, but urged restaurant providers “to provide straws as needed to people with disabilities.”
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said plastic straws are not “truly recyclable” because they are petroleum products.
Sneddon said she would like to see the city go even further.
“I would like to see this as just the beginning, not the end of what we are looking at,” Sneddon said.
Councilman Gregg Hart agreed with Rowse that “it is challenging to figure out the balance point” between regulation and encouragement. It is important in this case, he said, for Santa Barbara to take a stand.
“I do think that being aggressive and putting our mark out there to encourage citizens to think harder about this issue and not just in regards to straws and stirrers, but in regard to single-use plastic in our lives,” Hart said.