ENCINITAS — The Environmental Commission held a meeting Oct. 28 aimed at updating the local business community on the status of the city’s single-use plastic bag ban ordinance.
In a surprising 3-2 vote, City Council voted Sept. 10, 2008, to direct staff to draft an ordinance banning plastic bags. Councilman James Bond joined then-Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan and Councilwoman Teresa Barth in supporting a phased-in process to eliminate the use of all point-of-purchase single-use plastic shopping bags within the city.
After a year of educating the public and local businesses on the benefits of using reusable bags, several other cities enacted similar ordinances banning or curtailing the use of plastic bags.
Jacy Bolden, the city’s Environmental Advisory Commission coordinator, said the public outreach efforts are working. “We had a ‘day without a bag’ as well as several other education events and have been working closely with grocers and other businesses to gather their input on the ordinance,” she said before the meeting. “This is another way to reach out to businesses.”
The intimate gathering was not necessarily indicative of people’s interest in the subject of using plastic bags. In fact, shoppers at several small retail businesses along the El Camino Corridor and in Cardiff-by-the-Sea said they supported a ban on single-use plastic bags. Many thought the ordinance had already been enacted. “I’ve been bringing my own bags when I shop for so long, I guess I just thought it was already a law,” Encinitas resident Patricia Newcomb said.
In fact, the city was targeted by a San Francisco group called “Save the Plastic Bag” in an effort to prohibit the enactment of the ordinance. Attorney Stephen L. Joseph, representing the group, said in an interview that misinformation has caused “cut and paste” ordinances to pop up in several cities statewide.
The group has either threatened to sue or has litigated against several of the municipalities with plastic ban ordinances including Santa Monica, San Jose, San Diego and Manhattan Beach. Bolden said the current ordinance draft closely resembles Santa Monica’s.
The city received a notice of intent to litigate from Joseph on Sept. 17. The letter states that an environmental impact report is in order based on the California Environmental Quality Act should the city proceed with enacting the ban on plastic bags. Joseph denied that the group’s strategy is to compel cities to produce costly reports in an effort to make the ordinance cost-prohibitive. “The intent is to get the truth,” he said. Joseph maintains that the increased use of paper bags in the face of a plastic bag ban “is just disastrous.”
“It’s easy to ban something but what’s going to replace it?” Joseph asked.
Bolden said the city is closely monitoring litigation in other cities with similar bans. However, the commission’s main focus is to continue to educate the public and encourage reusable bags when shopping. “Encinitas people are already ahead of the curve on that one,” she said.