SOLANA BEACH — Paper or plastic may soon cease to be an option when shopping for groceries and other items in Solana Beach. City Council directed staff at the Oct. 26 meeting to create an ordinance banning single-use carryout plastic bags used by most area businesses.
If an ordinance is adopted — and it most likely will be sometime early next year — the small city known for its commitment to environmental sustainability will be the first in the county to enact such a law.
Solana Beach has shown interest in the past in adopting a ban but legal concerns precluded it from doing so.
Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, with members that include plastic bag manufacturers and distributors, sued Manhattan Beach, claiming the city should have conducted an environmental impact report prior to adopting a ban in 2008. The city appealed a 2009 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling in favor of the coalition.
This past May, Manhattan Beach won the appeal. The state Supreme Court ruled that cities smaller than 40,000 residents should not be required to conduct an expensive ERI.
Solana Beach will have to prepare a negative declaration at a cost of approximately $14,000, which is about $60,000 less than what an EIR could cost, according to the staff report.
With a population of about 13,500 residents, Solana Beach is one of four cities that can take advantage of the recent court ruling. The others are Del Mar, Coronado, Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach.
Staff presented different ordinances adopted by three other California cities to help council members make decisions on how the new law should be crafted.
Council members agreed it should apply to all grocery stores, pharmacies, retail businesses, city facilities, farmers markets and events on public property, such as the annual Fiesta del Sol.
“We have to set the example,” Councilman Joe Kellejian said.
Other cities took eight months to a year to educate the public. Two of the three used a tiered system depending on the size of the store.
Most of the Solana Beach council members agreed the law should be implemented as soon as possible but it should be tiered to give businesses a chance to get through their inventory.
“We’re in an economic downturn and we don’t want to hurt…our small businesses,” Kellejian said.
Most of the dozen or so residents who addressed council agreed. “If tomorrow is too soon, then…as quickly as feasible,” Judy Hegenauer said.
Councilman Mike Nichols, however, said a tiered system would be too confusing. “Just make it happen,” he said.
Two of the three cities exempt restaurants, a move Solana Beach officials said they supported initially, or at least until a cost-effective option can be found.
“If everybody is exempting restaurants, then we pretty much know it’s a problem,” Kellejian said.
“I don’t want to harm the restaurants,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “I want to get this done but I want to do it right.”
Council members also agreed there should be initial exemptions for health and safety issues or financial hardships. Two of the three cities excluded participants in the Women, Infants and Children Program, a federally funded nutrition project, and plastic bags used for produce and bakery items.
There was also consensus that a 10-cent fee for paper bags was reasonable, however, that money must go back to the store and not the city.
It is estimated that Californians use 19 billion plastic bags annually, with less than 5 percent recycled. Because they aren’t biodegradable, they continue to break down into smaller pieces.
The bags blow into the ocean and can be fatal if mistaken for food by marine life. Locally, plastic bags also create problems with infrastructure. They clog a diverter at Fletcher Cove Park about twice a year, disabling the pump and leaving the beach susceptible to urban runoff. The cost to the city to repair the pump is about $2,600 annually.
Paper bags can be more easily recycled since they are accepted in curbside pickup. They also hold more than plastic bags so there is a reduced supply demand, however, they are more energy and resource intensive to create.
In addition to the 13 speakers, the city received about 14 emails. They were all in support of a ban except one from the American Chemistry Council, which promoted an increase in recycling efforts since an “outright prohibition” could have unintended consequences.
In a Los Angeles Times article, Peter M. Grande, president of Vernon-based Command Packaging, said bans hurt the economy because they “kill jobs.” He also said they negatively impact the environment because plastic bags leave a lighter footprint on the planet than paper.
Residents such as Vicki Cypherd didn’t appear to support that argument.
“It seems amazing to me…that it even has to be a struggle to get an ordinance like this passed because it’s such a shocking, horrible problem,” she said.