Solana Beach council votes to ban plastic bags


By Joe Tash

Following the lead of local governments in other parts of California, Solana Beach has become the first city in San Diego County to introduce an ordinance prohibiting stores and restaurants from providing plastic shopping bags to their customers at the point of sale.

Some types of plastic bags, such as those used by supermarket customers to carry produce and meat to the checkout line, and by dry-cleaning shops, are still allowed under the new rules.

The Solana Beach City Council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance following a public hearing at its meeting on Wednesday, April 25. The ordinance will come back to the council at its next meeting on May 9 for a second reading. If approved, it would be phased in over the next six months.

The aim of the new law is to reduce the distribution and use of “single-use” plastic and paper bags, and “promote a major shift towards reusable bags in the City of Solana Beach,” said a city staff report included on Wednesday’s council agenda.

The law:

•Prohibits all retail establishments in the city from providing single-use plastic carryout bags, unless a narrow exemption applies.

•Encourages retailers to give their customers up to a 5 cent credit for each reusable bag they use when making purchases.

•Allows retailers to provide their customers with recycled paper bags if a minimum fee of 10 cents per bag is charged.

•Grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities must comply with the law within three months of its adoption; all remaining affected retail establishments, vendors and nonprofits must comply within six months.

•Violations of the law may be prosecuted as infractions or misdemeanors, or an administrative fine may be imposed.

All of the 22 people who requested to speak at the public hearing before the council’s vote were in favor of the ordinance. Several dozen people attended the meeting, and most stood up when a speaker asked who in the crowd supported the proposed ordinance.

“This is important. It’s overdue. No other city in San Diego County has done this,” said Peter Zahn, chairman of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, in urging the council to approve the ordinance.

“We hope this is the first in a series of dominoes to get everyone to where we need to go,” Belinda Smith of the Surfrider Foundation.

The city ordinance notes that 19 billion single-use bags are used in California each year, but less than 5 percent are recycled.

In Solana Beach, there are 461 retail businesses, and about 160 of them provide some 6.5 million single-use plastic bags to their customers each year.

The ordinance states that “numerous studies have documented the prevalence of single-use plastic carryout bags littering the environment, blocking storm drains, fouling beaches and the ocean environment.”

Solana Beach’s ordinance is partially based on ordinances passed in Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Long Beach. According to the staff report, 23 cities, counties and waste management agencies in California have adopted some type of plastic bag reduction ordinance.

Following the public comments, Councilman Dave Roberts said, “This is the right thing to do.”

Mayor Joe Kellejian said, “It’s time has come. I’m glad to be a part of this.”