Environmental Committee seeks to ban bags

City environmental watchdogs have come up with a proposal to ban plastic bags in Laguna and put a surcharge on paper bags for some retailers — but not just yet.

The Environmental Committee adopted a recommendation Monday that the city join with other communities that support the creation of a statewide Master Environmental Assessment that would greatly reduce the cost of separate impact reports the courts have required for similar ordinances banning plastic bags and taxing paper bags.

‘It’s cheaper to wait,” committee Chairman Chris Prelitz said. “Ken’s [City Manager Frank] position is to wait and see what the others are doing and get it right.”

An environmental sub-committee has contacted staff in other cities, including San Francisco, Fairfax, Oakland, Malibu and Santa Monica, that are addressing the same issue and received copies of their ordinances either proposed or in effect.

The committee’s draft was based on Santa Monica’s ordinance, which has not been adopted pending completion of an environmental impact report.

Committee members concluded that while plastic bags present the greater problem in terms of disposal and environmental degradation, paper bags also deplete resources and waste energy. Their draft ordinance limits the use of both.

Plastic bags will be prohibited except for prepared take-out food. Paper bags may be provided, but large retail establishments — specifically grocery stores and pharmacies — will have to charge a “green fee,” to be set by the city. Other retail establishments would be allowed to provide paper bags without charge.

“That isn’t fair,” said Sheila Bushard, owner of Bushard’s Pharmacy on Forest Avenue. “The law requires me to use paper bags for prescriptions to preserve privacy. I knew they were talking about outlawing plastic, but I had no idea they were going after paper bags.”

The committee is attempting to contact the business community about the likely reaction to the proposed ordinance. The Visitors Bureau has not responded to date and committee member Joanne Situ Allen reported that Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Hancock sent an e-mail asking for more information.

Staff liaison Michael Phillips advised the committee that the council would want to know if the chamber was contacted and had enough time to review the proposal.

Farmer’s Market Manager Jennifer Griffiths said she has not been contacted, but was aware of the drive to eliminate plastic bags and has already made the switch.

“A number of months ago, I saw people standing in front of the market gathering signatures,” Griffiths said. “So I immediately switched to biodegradable plastic bags.

“It’s very expensive, but it really works. I tested it myself and after two weeks buried in the ground, it’s gone.”

Committee member Greg O’Loughlin reported that in the four days before the council hearing, volunteers had collected 1,905 signatures in support. He also reported that Village Laguna supports the committee’s draft. The South Laguna Civic Assn. supports the concept and would be willing to assist financially, he said, but the Surfrider Foundation has opted to help fund the state Master Environmental Assessment that could be adapted to the needs of various cities.

Committee summary of proposed ordinance:

 Prohibit the distribution of single-use, plastic carryout bags from all retail establishments, except as used for take-out food to be eaten off the premises.

 Prohibit the distribution of single-use, plastic carryout bags from city facilities, concessions and events.

 Establish progressive enforcement procedures:

1. First violation, written warning;

2. Second violation, $100 administrative citation;

3. Third violation, $200 administrative citation;

4. Ongoing violations, $550 each.

 Provide hardship exceptions.

 Require that grocery stores and pharmacies provide customers with only reusable or paper bags, which would have to be 100% recycled material with a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content.

 Require that grocery stores and pharmacies providing paper carryout bags must charge a “green fee” and indicate on the transaction receipt the number of paper bags provided and the amount of green fee charged to the customer.

For more information on the proposed ordinance, call Phillips at (949) 494-0309.


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