Solana Beach plastic ban in the bag

By Claire Harlin

Solana Beach is well on its way to becoming the first city in San Diego County to ban plastic bags, after an overwhelmingly supportive City Council discussion on Oct. 26.

“We all agree that we need to be the leader in this,” said Mayor Lesa Heebner, referring to the fact that a Solana Beach ban may very well serve as a template for other cities — similar to 2003, when the city became the first in the continental U.S. to enact a smoking ban on public beaches.

There are seven active plastic bag bans, six adopted bans that are not active yet, six pending bans and 26 bans under discussion in California — none of which are in San Diego County.

The issue is not a matter of if Solana Beach will ban plastic bags, but when and how. Topics discussed include whether to use a tier system of implementation and whether to exempt some bags, such as those used for restaurant take-out or grocery store produce. The council provided direction to city staff, who will return with an ordinance proposal.

Heebner said she would like to see a tier system, in which large retailers may eradicate plastic bags within three months of the ordinance passing and the rest of retailers would have to follow suit a few months later. Even farmers markets vendors would be included in the ban, and she added that it defeats the purpose of a farmers market to not bring in your own bag or basket.

Councilmen Joe Kellejian and Mike Nichols said they’d like to see a ban go into effect immediately, but still let businesses get through their inventories of plastic bags and adapt to the ban.

“We’re in an economic downturn and we don’t want to hurt our small business,” Kellejian said.

In regard to city events, such as Fiesta del Sol, the council agreed to ban plastic bags, as well. Heebner pointed out that it would give a good opportunity for the city to hang out reusable bags and promote the cause.

In a city-sponsored event, said Kellejian, “it would defeat the whole purpose” to use plastic bags.

At the council meeting, city environmental services manager Dan King presented a report that went into depth on three very different plastic bag ban models: Manhattan Beach, Long Beach and Santa Monica.

One component of the Santa Monica model that the council wants to explore is implementing a 10-cent fee for paper bags in order to incentivize reusable bags. To be in compliance with the Prop 26 “stop hidden tax” mandate, all money must go to the retailer and no revenue can go to the city.

Sprouts and Jimbos are already exercising such measures internally, and City Attorney Johanna Canlas said these regulations were implemented by the retailer “with the hope that there would not be broad regulation.”

The City of Santa Monica also did a cost analysis to substantiate the minimum 10-cent fee per paper bag, and they allow businesses to charge less if they can show that the bags cost less. Long Beach also charges 10 cents per bag. Manhattan Beach doesn’t charge for paper bags, but they encourage retailers to implement incentives.

Canlas pointed out that there was a lawsuit was filed against Los Angeles County earlier this month because part of the 10-cent fee went back to the city as a component for its educational program, possibly violating Prop 26. Long Beach derived its plastic bag ban model from L.A. County, she said.

Santa Monica implemented the ordinance across the board eight months from the day it passed, whereas Manhattan Beach and Long Beach used tier systems based on the size of the retailer.

Both Santa Monica and Long Beach exempt restaurant take-out bags from the ban, as well as grocery store produce bags. Manhattan beach uses bags in cases of “undue hardship.”

According to statistics presented by King, Californians use some 19 billion plastic bags a year, and less than 5 percent of those are recycled. He also said $3.23 billion is spent annually dealing with plastic bag litter — that translates to about $88 per personal per year.