By Claire Harlin
As of May 9, Solana Beach is phasing out plastic bags.
The Solana Beach City Council unanimously passed the second and final reading of an ordinance that will make the city the first in San Diego County to limit single-use plastic bags and promote reusable bags. The move follows numerous other cities statewide. It still allows plastic for uses such as produce, meats and dry cleaning.
The ordinance, as approved, differs slightly from the law outlined in the first reading approved on April 25 in that it exempts restaurants. This change is due, in part, to the fact that the city has received three litigation threats from Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which claims the anti-plastic bag campaign is “based on myths, misinformation and exaggerations,” according to the organization’s website.
The group, led by attorney Stephen Joseph, claims that plastic bag bans are preempted and prohibited by the state California Retail Food Code, and is threatening to sue each and every city that attempts to implement a ban. The group contends that restaurants should not be subject to the ban for health, safety and practicality reasons, such as packaging hot or liquid food.
Solana Beach City Attorney Johanna Canlas said her office does not believe there is merit in the proposition that the ordinance is preempted by state law, however, she presented to the council the option of amending the ordinance to exempt restaurants. She pointed out that the issue is amid litigation in Northern California, and the amended position has been taken by numerous cities in California.
A total of 21 comments and letters were received by community members during the public comment period, which ended on March 19. The majority of letters supported the ordinance.
Evan Lewis, a youth with the Kids’ Eco-Club, approached the council and provided a multitude of statistics while expressing great concern about the environment and the use of plastic bags.
“Your children’s children’s children will have the burden of the same plastic bag you use today,” he said.
Both Council member Lesa Heebner and Deputy Mayor Dave Roberts expressed their appreciation to have a youth voice at the council meeting.
Roberts said he was not only happy for Lewis to witness a historical night for environmental efforts in Solana Beach, but also to get a chance to see how democracy works.
Community member Ed Siegel suggested, “Why not save more trees and recycle plastic bags to use as lumber?”
The local psychiatrist said he owns a chair made from plastic bags, and it has withstood the weather on his patio for many years.
“If it were made of iron, it would be gone by now,” he said.
Heebner said the purpose of the ordinance is not to force people to use paper, but to encourage the use of reusable bags. She said she is also glad to see Solana Beach being a leader in so many areas relating to the environment.
“I am proud of our city,” she said. “There are a lot of bad things happening because of plastic bags.”
The law will be phased in to let retail establishments use up their plastic bag supplies. Grocery stores, food vendors, pharmacies and city facilities must comply within three months, and all remaining affected businesses have six months to comply.
The new ordinance also allows retailers to provide customers with recycled paper bags for a minimum of 10 cents per bag. Violations may be prosecuted as infractions or misdemeanors, or a fine may be imposed.