Chico bag-ban law elicits pointed attacks
“I want to be able to walk out of here and still be neighbors.” Mayor Scott Gruendl made that statement just moments before a 4-to-2 vote of the Chico City Council to move forward on instituting a citywide ban on single-use plastic bags—an ordinance that will be phased in beginning next January at various retailers.
A lack of decorum displayed by members of the public, whose comments at the podium included personal attacks, prompted those words from the mayor. He was primarily responding to council regulars Stephanie Taber and Michael Reilley, both of whom took the opportunity to single out specific people and chide the panel about the city’s financial failings.
“I kind of wish we would have spent all this time [talking] about financial matters, and not about plastic bags. I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous,” said Taber, who’s kept a file on the proposed bag ban since 2011. “When we are in so much trouble we paid no attention to our financial matters and paid all this time with Ann Schwab who can’t possibly look up from her computer, because she’s just so enamored with herself.”
Taber eventually got back on topic, going on to say that the city should move forward only if forced to in the event that state lawmakers approve a bag ban. As was noted during the meeting, Senate Bill 270 aims to do just that.
According to Lori Barker, who retires next week and was attending her last City Council meeting as city attorney (see Downstroke, page 8), the local ordinance would prohibit single-use plastic bags at various retailers: grocers with sales of at least $2 million; those with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, including a pharmacy; and convenience stores with certain types of alcohol-sales licenses. Bags without handles (such as those used to hold veggies and meat or prescriptions) would still be allowed. Retailers would be required to charge most customers 10 cents for paper bags. The exception would apply to recipients of food stamps and other subsidized nutrition programs—they would receive bags for free.
Following Taber at the podium was Andy Keller, owner of reusable bag manufacturer ChicoBag and the lone advocate of the ban among the eight members of the public who spoke on the agenda item. Keller noted that his company employs 27 people, and that the ban would help grow his business, creating more employment opportunities in Chico, including jobs at other local bag-makers.
Keller said that Chico, should it approve the ban, would be the 75th community in the state to do so. He also made a commitment to donate bags (though he wasn’t specific on a number) to residents who could not afford an adequate one. He’d given away 10,000 in San Jose, he said.
A few minutes later, Keller was followed by insurance agent Reilley, a longtime council attendee and staunch opponent of so-called nanny laws. Like Taber, Reilley made a point of bringing the city’s financial issues into the picture. He went on to say that the retailers’ costs due to bookkeeping related to the ban would be passed on to customers.
Reilley also took issue with ChicoBag’s business model. “ChicoBags, give what you want to give,” said Reilley, turning to face Keller. “Why not bring the jobs you have in China to Chico? I have my ChicoBag and let me tell you what their label states in it: Built in China with love. I’d love to have those jobs in Chico. Maybe if they were here that would help Chico’s revenue get out of the financial problems they’ve got.”
Gruendl chimed in moments later with his gentle reminder to the public to not make things personal.
“We can disagree, but this is about criticizing policy. It is not about people. And, actually, our rules in this chamber are about focusing on what’s good or bad about policy and not directing it at individuals,” he said.
Despite the mayor’s plea, further recrimination came from the dais.
Vice Mayor Mark Sorensen called the issue a time-waster and he, too, singled out Schwab. “As far as the sponsor, Ms. Schwab, I wish you’d spent a tenth of the time learning about city finances rather than a plastic bag ban,” he said. Sorensen and Councilman Sean Morgan made futile attempts to kill the ordinance.
After some clarification from city staff that the law would not adversely affect the city’s coffers and two amendments by Gruendl to push back the implementation date to Jan. 1, 2015, rather than October, for the big-boxes and pharmacies and the following January for convenience stores, the panel, with Councilwoman Mary Goloff absent, voted to introduce the ordinance. Sorensen and Morgan cast the dissenting votes.