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Solana Beach seeks to ban plastic bags

Ordinance would be first of its kind in SD County

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In the wake of the Los Angeles City Council’s recommendation to ban plastic bags from supermarket checkout lines, the city of Solana Beach may be the next in line to implement a similar ordinance.

The banning of plastic grocery bags has been building momentum in California, as more than 23 ordinances covering 44 cities have been ratified.

"This movement is spreading like wildfire because Californians are willing to switch to reusable bags to save our environment from the devastating effects of plastic trash," said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Oak Park. “I am very excited to see Solana Beach is considering adopting its own ordinance on single-use bags.”

Solana Beach is the first city in San Diego County to identify an environmental impact of plastic waste subsequent to guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act.

If the results show significant mitigating effects on the environment, Solana Beach will enforce a plastic bag retail ban.

“Two years ago, I introduced a bill to create a uniform, statewide ban on single-use bags and I intend to introduce a similar measure this year,” Brownley said. “With growing support from communities like Solana Beach, we can defeat the plastic-bag makers' multimillion dollar lobbying campaign and lead the nation in saving our oceans, lakes and rivers from plastic pollution."

The Solana Beach City Council approved a 42-page staff report draft on Feb 8. The draft outlines the Initial Study/Environmental Checklist and Negative Declaration (IS/ND) required by CEQA.

As of press time, the city of Solana Beach had released the IS/ND for public review, but the ordinance itself had not been released.

According to Dan King, senior management analyst for the city of Solana Beach, the ordinance is still currently under a 30-day staff review.

“More will be known at the end of the week. The council is waiting on the results of the staff report, which is coming out either Thursday or Friday,” he said.

If approved, the staff report notes the ordinance “is intended to reduce the distribution and use of single-use plastic and paper carry out bags, and to promote a major shift toward reusable bags.”

The ban will affect all retail stores in the city of Solana Beach six months after it is adopted by the city council.

“There are a lot of people already using reusable bags here,” King said. “Most of our retail stores knew this was coming and are working with us.”

Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit environmental research and advocacy organization, is a strong proponent for the plastic bag ban movement.

“We have been working across the state to support local bag ordinances, while at the same time trying to reach a statewide solution on the issue of plastic bag pollution,” said Sue Vang, policy associate for Californians Against Waste.

“Plastic bags harm not only our environment, but also our economy,” Vang said. “Currently, 44 California cities and counties are covered under a bag ban — roughly 16 percent of the state’s population — and these numbers continue to climb.”

According to the Californians Against Waste website, 14 billion plastic bags are distributed annually in California, and only 3 percent are recycled.

“We’ve seen the plastic industry lose twice in the courts already on challenges to local bag bans adopted without EIRs (Environmental Impact Reports),” Vang said. “One of those losses was in the state Supreme Court. It’s simply not necessary for single-use bag ordinances that have such an obvious benefit to the environment to spend the time and money on an EIR.”

The California Supreme Court ruled that a similar ordinance for the city of Manhattan Beach did not have a significant environmental effect, and an EIR was not required. Due to the ruling, the city of Solana Beach — with a population of roughly 13,000 — will also not be required to file an EIR, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Staunch opponents of the city and statewide ordinances, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, declined to go on record.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition website states, “we are the only organization that is questioning and challenging the misinformation, myths, exaggerations and hype spread by anti-plastic bag activists.”

According to Californians Against Waste, “earlier lawsuits focused on CEQA compliance, arguing that a ban on plastics would increase paper bag usage, resulting in significant adverse environmental impacts, such as higher greenhouse gas emissions.”

In order to comply with CEQA regulations, many cities have implemented a 10-to 15-cent consumer charge for paper bags and are encouraging consumers to use reusable bags.

“It may be inconvenient at first, but overall the majority of consumers are adapting to the change,” said Dave Heylen, vice president of communication for the California Grocers Association (CGA).

The CGA is on the fence about the ordinance, however, they are willing to work with state and city officials and facilitate the transition if the bans are supported by residents.

“No business wants to be regulated, but we certainly don’t oppose it,” he said. “This is an ordinance we can work with.”

In 2010, the CGA supported Assemblywoman Brownley’s California statewide ban of single-use plastic bags (AB 1998). The bill failed to pass in the Senate.

“As of all the models that have been proposed, this one makes the most sense,” Heylen said. “We want to do what’s best for the retailer, best for the consumer and best for the environment. It’s a win, win, win.”

-Patruno is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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