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Plastic bag ban back on the table

Almost two years ago, the city’s Environmental Committee proposed a ban on plastic bags in Laguna — and now some action may finally be seen.

The city’s Water Quality Department has begun the process of creating an ordinance, pending a California Supreme Court ruling on whether Manhattan Beach’s ban on the bags required an environmental impact report.

The court recently ruled that Manhattan Beach’s declaration of no adverse or at least fixable impacts was sufficient to comply with California Environmental Quality Act, which had been challenged by Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.

“Basically, the court said Manhattan Beach is a small town, and the restriction on plastic bags won’t make a big difference, which was good for us,” Laguna Water Quality Director David Shissler said. “We are similar in size to Manhattan Beach, perhaps even a little smaller.

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“Our ordinance will include time for the stores to use up their inventory of plastic bags and to stock approved bags. It is essentially the same process we used to pass the ban on single-use Styrofoam containers, which has been incredibly successful.”

City Environmental Specialist Michael Phillips said many California cities have given stores a six-month grace period. Others haven’t. Long Beach, for example, began enforcing its ban Monday.

An ordinance could be on a Laguna Beach City Council agenda by November.

“We will bring some options to the council probably in September and ask for direction, such as how far down do we drill or do we limit it to the big players — essentially the groceries,” Shissler said. “Then we take the options to stakeholders.”

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Options might include recommendations proposed by the Environmental Committee at the Aug. 8, 2009, council meeting, said Phillips, staff liaison to the committee.

The committee recommendations went well beyond Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly’s request in March of the same year for an examination of the options and legal ramifications of requiring “compostable” or reusable grocery bags in Laguna.

The committee’s 2009 summary of its proposed ordinance included:

•Prohibit the distribution of single-use, plastic carryout bags from 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;

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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.

“That isn’t fair,” pharmacy owner Sheila Bushard said when the draft was presented in 2009. “The law requires me to use paper bags for prescriptions to preserve privacy.”

Shissler said paper bags do not appear to be in the scope of the current ordinance being prepared.

To bolster the city’s position on plastic bags, Phillips has arranged for the distribution of 1,700 reusable bags made of recycled material at local groceries and the Farmers Market.

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


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