Peninsula cities explore a plastic bag ban – and hope the industry won’t sue.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
At first glance, you might think Angela Brantley’s houseboat is surrounded by jellyfish. But the white blobs she fishes out of the water are actually flimsy plastic bags.
“We find them everywhere,” says Brantley, who is in charge of the city of Monterey’s solid waste program.
Nearly a dozen California jurisdictions, including San Francisco and San Jose, have adopted bans on single-use plastic bags. Now Monterey is taking baby steps in the same direction, with Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea a few paces behind.
One hitch: They might get sued over it.
The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, made up of plastic bag manufacturers, is alleging that bans in Manhattan Beach, Long Beach and Marin County lacked the proper environmental reviews. The California Supreme Court heard the Manhattan Beach case in May but has not yet issued a decision.
“If you look at the facts, there’s no justification for banning plastic bags,” coalition attorney Stephen Joseph says. “The point of our campaign is to ensure that if plastic bags are going to be banned, it’s got to be based on truth.”
Monterey is working on an initial study on a plastic bag ban similar to San Jose’s. The next step is to reach out to the Chamber of Commerce, Brantley says. A City Council vote on the ban isn’t likely until the Manhattan Beach case is decided, possibly this summer.
Pacific Grove is also on deck: City Environmental Programs Manager Sarah Hardgrave has asked the City Council to consider directing staff to prepare an initial study and ordinance modeled after Monterey’s.
In Carmel-by-the-Sea, Mayor Sue McCloud and Councilman Jason Burnett are getting a similar conversation started. On May 3, the City Council heard from a broad spectrum of residents in support of a ban, and on June 7 nonprofit Oceana presented on the marine impacts of littered plastic bags.
Burnett hopes to put a ban on the council agenda soon: “I think the majority of the council will support it.”
He’s not daunted by the prospect of a legal threat from Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. “We obviously want to avoid a lawsuit, but I think they would be crazy to engage anyone on the Monterey Peninsula with that sort of fight,” he says. “This is the center of marine science for the West Coast, if not the whole country, and a big reason to pursue a plastic bag ban is for ocean health.”
Local cities, take note: The coalition has been picky about its lawsuits. Joseph says Manhattan Beach, Long Beach and Marin County were targeted because they either didn’t prepare an EIR or downplayed the potential negative environmental impacts of banning plastic bags (such as driving up the use of paper). It hasn’t challenged bag bans adopted by Los Angeles County, San Jose and Santa Monica, which did environmental impact reports and imposed fees on paper bags.
“We didn’t sue any of those because they largely complied with the law,” Joseph says. “If you want to do it right, L.A. County came the closest.”
In his view, any plastic bag bans should include fees on paper bags, which he says are environmentally worse then plastic: “The higher the better.”
In that regard, he’s on common ground with Brantley. “That charge is what’s going to encourage people to bring their own bags,” she says. “If you give it away for free, it’s banned.”