Solana Beach plastic bag ban wrong on several levels

Like many in Solana Beach, I was minding my own business last fall when I learned that my routine interactions with local merchants had been criminalized by a ban on plastic bags that can lead to fines and up to six months in prison for a merchant who provides a plastic bag to a customer.

I read “Solana Beach City Council stays with plastic bag ban” (April 4, 2013 Solana Beach Sun) with disappointment, since it appears that the City Council’s response to complaints about the ban is to double down by spending resources to educate the misguided citizens about the wonderfulness of the ban.

Before the ban was passed, our family shopped with re-useable bags. When we asked for plastic, it was because we needed the convenience of these cheap, sanitary little bags (great for picking up after the dog). We dutifully recycled the bags that we did not use.

Educating and persuading fellow citizens apparently wasn’t enough for the local do-gooders, however. Because with little notice (I don’t routinely attend city council meetings, and I saw no public notices), re-useable bags went from suggested to mandatory.

The ban is wrong on at least three levels.

First, the City Council should fix the rusting rails and crumbling stairs at Tide Park, and attack pot holes. It shouldn’t be interfering in the minutiae of people’s lives. I said nothing when they banned cigarettes on the beach (I don’t smoke). I had no comment when they banned bottles on the beach. I was annoyed when the state banned my favorite light bulbs. Now, the government has come for my plastic bags, and I guess there’s no one left to speak for me. One can dislike plastic bags, but still feel that government has no business criminalizing the use of one.

Second, the environmental movement is replete with trendy ideas that end up backfiring. Laws mandating the use of bio fuels have increased the cost of commodities, hurt the poor, and led to increased deforestation of the rain forest. Al Gore now repudiates biofuels, while Archer Daniels Midland grows rich on the subsidized product. I’ve read the science against plastic bags. The impact on landfills of plastic bags is miniscule; the cost to produce other carrying containers has an impact. Reasonable minds can differ about the impact of plastic bags on the environment, and whether the incremental cost of replacement products is possibly worse.

Thirdly, the city coffers are going to bleed because of this misguided ban. Vons was hurting before Whole Foods opened. A friend watched a woman walk out and leave over $100 of groceries on the belt at checkout when she was told she would have to pay for a paper bag. We know a woman who works in Solana Beach and would shop at Vons on her way home to Encinitas. Now, she just shops in Encinitas. The council might deny it, but in big ways (the coast highway construction), and little ways (the plastic bag ban), they are unfriendly to business. Retailers in Solana Beach will bleed the death of a thousand cuts from decisions like the plastic bag ban which are unfriendly to merchants and inconvenient to consumers who will take their purchases (and sales taxes) elsewhere.

No, the Solana Beach City Council, both the current members, and the ones who passed the ban, like Supervisor Dave Roberts, need to be honest: they have made a judgment and they have unilaterally imposed their value judgment on their fellow citizens. Now that the citizens have objected, their response as set forth in the recent article is rather than reconsider the plastic bag ban, “. . . the consensus of the council was that city staff should further educational programs to help integrate the ordinance into the community.”

Having failed to persuade us in advance that the plastic bag ban was a good idea, having failed to persuade us after the ban that it was a good idea, the City Council and banning proponents will now spend the city’s limited resources to re-educate us until we submit to their wisdom.

When the government spends its resources to convince you of something, we call it propaganda. And, that’s where this misguided ban has taken this city: a criminal statute that forces the citizens to behave in a certain way, and when they object, more education to convince them.

Tim Pickwell

Solana Beach