Bag ordinance moves ahead
Council won’t wait for governor to act
Anyone who expected fireworks when the Chico City Council took up the controversial issue of regulating the use of carry-out plastic bags at its meeting Tuesday (Sept. 4) came away disappointed.
Yes, there was strong disagreement among the members of the public who spoke on the issue, and at one point Butte County Supervisor Larry Wahl, a former councilman, demanded that the council “stop being our nanny.”
But if the two conservative members of the council, Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen, were opposed to regulation, they didn’t say so. Instead they sought to convince their fellow council members that it was properly a statewide issue and a decision should be put off until Gov. Jerry Brown decided whether to sign a bill, SB 1219, that is now on his desk.
That bill, as described by General Services Director Ruben Martinez, would amend current law requiring grocery stores to accept plastic bags for recycling by discontinuing the provision that prohibits jurisdictions such as cities and counties from placing local fees on the bags or adopting local ordinances regulating plastic and/or paper carry-out bags.
Evans and Sorensen both argued that, by waiting for the state to act, the city could eliminate the cost in staff time of environmental review.
“My concern is the cost,” Evans said. “It sounds like, with a little patience, we can wait and see what the state does. I think the timing is a little premature in this tight fiscal time.”
Sorensen agreed, saying it was “a statewide issue. It looks like we’re going down a path of spending thousands of dollars at a time when we should be hiring police.”
Other council members wanted to move forward, however. “I don’t think this is the time to wait on the state for leadership,” Councilwoman Mary Goloff said. The cost of developing an ordinance would be negligible, she and others insisted.
As Martinez told the council, 52 California jurisdictions, including the cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, Long Beach and San Francisco and the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Alameda have regulated carry-out bags, most by banning plastic bags and requiring stores to charge a dime for paper bags.
Well, that leaves more than 5,900 that don’t have ordinances, Evans insisted. When a puzzled Councilwoman Mary Goloff asked him where he got that figure, he said he’d done research and learned there are 6,000 jurisdictions in California.
(According to Sacramento State’s Center for California Studies, the state has 58 counties, 475 incorporated cities and more than 1,100 school and community-college districts. It also has thousands of special water, cemetery, recreation, lighting and similar districts. Only cities and counties can pass ordinances, however.)
Several speakers addressed the problems plastic bags create. Andy Keller, who owns ChicoBag Co., said the bags have a “product problem—they become wind-borne litter even when disposed of properly.”
Two City Council candidates in addition to Schwab, who is up for re-election, participated in the discussion. One of them, businessman Toby Schindelbeck, said it was “irresponsible for the City Council to spend time on a plastic-bag ban when the city is cutting police, there’s a burgeoning homeless population,” and so forth. And the other, architect Dave Kelley, said he “didn’t see a problem.” Any bag he disposed of in Chico wasn’t going to reach “some Texas-size plastic island in the ocean.” Like Schindelbeck, he recommended the council focus on public education rather than regulation.
But others defended regulation. Tim Edwards told of visiting Washington state, which requires that bags cost a nickel, and how that disincentive trained him to carry his reusable bag into stores. “We seem to have lost our way with plastic,” he said. “You guys can help us make a decision [to use reusable bags] that would be beneficial.”
Wahl accused the council of “trying to pick winners and losers” and being “social engineers.” He asked the council to put the issue on the ballot so people could vote on whether they wanted to use plastic bags.
Interestingly, the consensus on the pro-regulation side seemed to be that, rather than ban plastic bags altogether, they would prefer to require stores to charge for them as well as paper bags, thereby giving shoppers an incentive to use reusable bags. That’s not possible under current law, which prohibits charging for plastic bags, but would be possible if the governor signs SB 1219.
On a motion by Vice Mayor Jim Walker, however, the council voted 5-2, with Evans and Sorensen dissenting, to have staff draft an ordinance banning plastic carry-out bags in large retailers and requiring them to charge a dime for paper bags, with the proviso that it be revisited if the governor signs SB 1219.