Bagging restrictions

Council moves forward with proposed plastic-bag ordinance

Chico’s proposed ban on disposable plastic bags is either just another heinous example of nanny government chipping away personal freedoms, or it’s a favor to future generations.

That was the crux of the debate at the Chico City Council meeting Tuesday (March 6). The idea of banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other retail establishments was initially broached last November during a Sustainability Task Force meeting. The matter was further discussed and public opinions were received at task force meetings in December and January.

The council, after listening to 11 members of the public—eight in favor and three against—voted 5 to 2 to send the matter to its Internal Affairs Committee to craft the language for the ordinance.

Linda Herman, the city’s general services administration manager, told the council that there are 19 jurisdictions in California with existing plastic-bag restrictions, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo. The reasons are many and include the fact that millions of gallons of oil go into their production, and they create widespread litter—Butte County spends an estimated $55,000 annually at the Neal Road Landfill collecting plastic-bag litter; Caltrans and the city spend hundreds of thousands of dollars removing bags from road, creeks and storm drains.

Councilmen Mark Sorensen and Bob Evans voted against moving the matter forward, arguing that education rather than enforcement would be the way to go. Sorensen said encouraging the grocery stores to charge customers would give customers the freedom to decide. But that option was taken off the table in 2007 with implementation of AB2449, which requires stores to provide recycling bins for plastic bags, but prohibits them from charging a bag fee.

Evans asked if an environmental-impact report would be required should the city adopt a bag-restricting ordinance. Herman said a court ruling on an ordinance in Manhattan Beach eliminated the need for an EIR in such cases.

Evans also questioned the costs to the city and Caltrans cleaning up litter along the roads, noting not all of it is from plastic bags. Herman told him most of it is.

The first member of the public to speak was the Sierra Club’s Grace Marvin, who said her research suggested 97 percent of plastic bags are not reused and can make their way to the ocean, harming wildlife and the environment. She said California spent $25 million in 2009 on litter collection.

“We need for money to be spent much more wisely,” she said. “We need to promote that people should be using their own reuseable bags.”

She was followed by Andy Keller, owner of ChicoBag Co., which sells reusable bags manufactured in China. (That last bit of information was not lost on bag-ban opponents, who chanted “China” when ChicoBag came up later in the meeting.)

Keller, who said his business employs 25 workers locally, presented the council with a container of plastic bags he had picked up in front of his business earlier in the day.

“There are 102 billion carryout plastic bags handed out in the U.S. each year,” he said. “That is 332 per person.”

Mayor Ann Schwab, who heads the Sustainability Task Force, asked Keller about stores offering customers the choice of buying paper bags. He said that in Washington, D.C., a 5-cent fee for paper bags had led to 90 percent reduction in plastic-bag use “almost overnight.”

Keller was followed by two more bag-ban supporters, one of whom sang a song in favor of the ban. Then Sue Hubbard, a local tea-party activist and regular at council meetings, came forward and said she was “seriously sick of nanny government telling us what they think is the right thing to do. I don’t think the people of Chico really want this.”

She suggested proponents gather signatures for a referendum and put it before the voters. She told the council if this goes through she will begin driving “to Paradise to shop at the Super Walmart we couldn’t have here.”

Local business owner and declared candidate for City Council Toby Schindelbeck said business owners are struggling as it is.

“The City Council fiddles while the city of Chico burns,” he said. “We need to create more jobs and support local business.”

In the end, the council, acting on a motion by Councilman Andy Holcombe, voted to send the matter to the Internal Affairs Committee for more public input and further development of an ordinance.