On Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to proceed with a Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance for the unincorporated areas in Ventura County. The ordinance would ban the free distribution of single-use paper and plastic carryout bags and impose a charge of 10-cents for recyclable paper bags. The item was placed on the agenda by supervisors Steve Bennett and John Zaragoza, both of whom feared that the State of California would not pass a statewide plastic bag ban, a solution both of them preferred. The agenda item would direct county staff to prepare an ordinance based on the model ordinance contained in the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans (BEACON) Environmental Impact Report (EIR). It should be mentioned that Supervisors Bennett and Zaragoza also serve on the BEACON board, a joint powers authority that was responsible for development of the BEACON EIR.
According to the agenda item, “The ordinance would apply to supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience food stores, liquor stores and other retail stores that sell a limited line of food goods including milk, bread, sodas and snack food. The ordinance would not apply to plastic produce bags, nor to plastic bags used in restaurants and cafes for take-out food. Approximately 21 retail stores in the Ventura County unincorporated area would be affected by this ordinance. The greatest concentration of these stores is in the Ojai Valley.”
The stated goal is: “The ordinance is intended to reduce litter and other environmental impacts related to single-use carryout plastic bags and provide an incentive for increased use of reusable bags.”
On 1 October 2013 the Santa Barbara City Council voted to deny the appeal by Save The Plastic Bag Coalition (STPB) and to go ahead with the Plastic Bag Ban. The issue will come to the council for a second reading of the ordinance in two weeks.
On August 8, 2013 the Santa Barbara Planning Commission voted 6 to 1 to certify the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and a City of Santa Barbara Addendum without notifying interested parties in a timely manner. As a result interested parties, such as myself and STPB, were not able to attend the public meeting to answer questions or to present a case why the EIR is flawed and should be rewritten. After finding out about the action, STPB filed an appeal which was heard at the 1 October 2013 City Council meeting.
At the 5 August 2013 Ventura City Council Meeting, Council Member Brian Brennan and Council Member Carl E. Morehouse introduced a Request for Policy Consideration for preparation of a Draft Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. The Request for Policy Consideration was approved by the full city council with no opposition.
The Request for Policy Consideration would direct the staff to develop a draft Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, determine how the ordinance would be enforced, provide a budget to modify the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and return to the City Council in early Fall to consider these items and a timeline for next steps.
At the council meeting, Council Member Brian Brennan introduced the policy consideration and provided a brief history of the development of the BEACON EIR. He then stated that BEACON EIR would be used to create a project that would consist of a single-use Carryout Bag Ordinance and that the city council would have to certify the BEACON EIR.
Council Member Brennan then brought up a viewgraph presentation from two years earlier where a trash study was done for the Ventura River. This was part of the Total Maximum Daily Load Program under the federal Clean Water Act. He proceeded to point out on the some of the slides the amount of plastic including plastic bags that come from storm drains discharges into the Ventura River. He went on to state that there are more than 1300 storm drain inlets in the city and that plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, paper, biodegradable material, glass, bottle caps, and more come out the storm drains and into the river.
What Council Member Brennan neglected to make clear to the council and audience, is that in the last two years the city of Ventura has spent more than $300K to install more than 200 trash excluders in storm drain catch basins to prevent the trash mentioned in the paragraph above from being discharged into the Ventura River. In addition, the project is still unfinished and that 50 more trash excluders for the Ventura River need to be budgeted for, procured and installed (according to an inside source).
Council Member Carl E. Morehouse spoke next and stated that he wants to see a reduction in litter to make our city look beautiful. Council Member Morehouse then presented several slides showing plastic bags in his neighborhood when walking down from Loma Vista to Telegraph on Day Road and opposite Foothill Technology School. He stated that he knew that the source of this litter was from the flea market held on the Ventura College parking lot.
Most cities with single-use carryout bag ordinances provide an exception for farmers markets and flea markets and charitable organizations. Hence the plastic bag litter shown in the photos from councilmember Morehouse would more than likely not be affected by a plastic bag ban.
Council Member Morehouse also said that the aim of the ordinance is to go after the big distributors of plastic bags. He said that he wants to take the plastic carryout bag out of the waste stream to make our community look better. His goal is to get a handle on the trash and make Ventura a clean city that will attract tourism.
Council Member Brennan then stated that Ventura will not be the first to use the BEACON EIR. The City of Santa Barbara is first with Santa Barbara County following shortly thereafter. City attorney Ariel Calonne mentioned that Santa Barbara has prepared a 9 to 10 page supplemental document to the BEACON EIR.
Council Member Brennan then mentioned outreach programs at the schools, community events such as street fairs, and at stores giving away reusable bags. The City Manager, Mark Watkins, also mentioned that implementation would include outreach to businesses, street faire, passing out bags with the city logo, all the things you do when rolling out a new program. Council Member Brennan also stated that 97% of plastic bags could be eliminated by a bag ban based upon what the storm water professionals working for the city have said.
Council Member Christy Weir then asked if the ban would apply to the really big plastic bags that you would put a bedspread in, to which the reply from Council Member Brennan was No, it only applied to HDPE bags. She then received assurances from other council members that it be clear in the ordinance.
The question that Council Member Weir asked is a very pertinent question. Most city ordinances ban all plastic carryout bags regardless of the type of plastic from which they are made and regardless of the size of the bag. Plastic carryout bags made from plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick are allowed. The thicker, stronger plastic bags – those more than 2.25 mils thick – have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available; for example, very large bags for bedding and other bulky household items (Seattle Public Utilities Commission – FAQs – Bag Ban for Retailers)
There were a total of 16 speakers, 12 speakers for the plastic bag ban and 4 against.
Many of the speakers were from the Surfrider Foundation including one young lady who donned the Bag Monster costume and provided some comic relief and entertainment for the council and the public in attendance. The Bag Monster costume consists of hundreds of plastic carryout bag. The idea for the costume was invented by Andy Keller from ChicoBag, a manufacturer of reusable bags, as a spoof to show how single-use plastic bags are such a bad idea. The spoof is wildly popular with proponents of bag bans.
Speakers for the plastic bag ban cited plastic bag litter and harm to marine wildlife including sea turtles as the main reason why plastic bags should be banned. Some of the speakers for the ban are as follows:
Bob Davidson, a 38-year Ventura Resident stated that the ordinance is not a plastic bag ban but should be retitled as a “Reusable Bag Ordinance” since shoppers could always bring their own plastic carryout bags.
Bill Hickman, the Rise Above Plastics Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation spoke in favor of the ordinance to ban plastic bags and showed a short video consisting of still pictures of littered plastic bags photographed in different locations throughout the city. Mr. Hickman also mentioned that the city should implement the ban and get not only the storm water credits but a beautiful city. He too stated that the ordinance should be renamed the Reusable Bag Ordinance. He mentioned the goal is to target the high volume distributors but would love the boutique shops and restaurants to participate.
Speakers against the ban included the following:
Brian Lee Rencher stated that he too is opposed to the ordinance and that plastic bags are handy thing to have and that he carries them with him wherever he goes, and proceeded to pull out a bunch from a pants pocket. He stated he prefers to live as George Jetson instead of Fred Flintstone and said that the plastic bag ban knocks him back to days of Fred Flintstone. He also stated he would purchase his own plastic carryout bags and use them.
Carla Bonney, a longtime resident of Ventura, and a past Council Candidate also spoke in opposition to the policy consideration. Carla said that she likes using plastic bags and throws them away only after using them multiple times. Carla also reminded the council that trash excluders had been installed in storm drain catch basins to prevent trash from entering the river. She also mentioned that people living in the River Bottom are a major source of trash including plastic bags.
According to an article published in the Ventura County Reporter on September 27, 2012 titled “The Ventura River bottom Diaspora” where more than 47 individuals were escorted from 20 illegal camps in the Ventura River bottom, one hundred tons of trash and debris were removed for a total of more than 300 tons of trash removed from the river bottom in 2012.
Anthony van Leeuwen, a 36-year resident of Ventura, spoke in opposition to the policy consideration. He stated that he too shares the concern of litter. He said that since plastic bags comprise less than 1% or roadside litter, that the litter problem will not be solved by banning a single item. Furthermore, the litter problem need to be solved by traditional methods, including education, but education won’t solve the entire problem, you have to do the hard work of picking up the litter. In addition, he said that since 30% of the 658 million plastic bags will be replaced by paper bags, per the BEACON EIR, and that since each paper bags has the environmental impact of 4 plastic carryout bags, the 30% paper bags becomes equivalent to an environmental impact of 120% of the plastic bags that when added to the environmental impact of reusable bags means that the environmental impact due to carryout bags after the bag ban is much higher than the environmental impact of the status quo.
After all public speakers finished speaking, Council Member Weir asked if the money that grocery stores collect for paper bags could come back to the city to fund litter cleanup programs and could that be looked into. She recognized that this would be a tax subject to a vote.
Deputy Mayor Cheryl Heitmann asked if the paper bag fee is negotiable. She concluded it was and suggested that grocery stores must be benefiting from it in some way since they are supportive of the measure. She also liked the idea expressed by Council Member Weir that a portion of the fee could come back to the city. After a little discussion, a motion was made and seconded and it will go to city staff to investigate as part of the Policy Consideration.
Council Member Neal Andrews said that he objected to the 10-cent fee on paper bags and suggested that it is a form of bribery to get the support of the grocery stores and that if the ordinance comes back with that that he would be against it but for now he is for the policy consideration.
Carl Morehouse thanked all speakers for coming including the opposition.
The policy consideration was then passed with a unanimous vote.