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Del Mar moves forward with bag ban

DEL MAR — The county’s smallest city is on track to become the next one in San Diego to ban single-use plastic bags, approving at the Feb. 16 meeting the introduction of a new law that will be implemented in phases.

If adopted at the second reading, scheduled for March 7, the ordinance will take effect one month later but retail stores would have six months, or until October, to use existing inventory.

Restaurants and the farmers market must comply by April 2017. Enforcement would be complaint-based so the city will not create “bag police.”

To encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags, stores can provide paper bags but they must charge at least 10 cents for each one. They can also offer incentives such as credit for people who bring reusable sacks, which can be sold for no less than 50 cents.

Violators will receive a warning first and then fines of $100 and $500 for subsequent infractions.

Plastic bags for dry cleaning, produce, fish, meat, poultry and pet waste would be exempt, as will those used to carry hot liquids such as soup.

Jim Wang, from the Encinitas Environmental Commission, said that city has had 100 percent compliance since its ban was enacted last year.

He said merchants have reported minimal impacts and many say they are saving money because they no longer have to give away the plastic bags that they had to buy from manufacturers.

It really just takes two or three weeks, he said. You buy the bag, then give yourself a head slap when you forget it. It’s just like brushing your teeth. It becomes habit.

Based on bans in the nearby cities of Solana Beach and Encinitas, the law was created by the Sustainability Advisory Board with help the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

Representatives from that organization were among the nine speakers who addressed council members at the meeting.

All but one urged them to support the ban, citing the negative impacts the bags have on the environment and marine life and their inability to biodegrade.

Surfrider’s Roger Kube noted that 148 jurisdictions in California and countries in Africa, Australia, Europe, Canada and Mexico have all adopted similar bans.

“Do they all have it wrong?” he asked. “I don’t think so. … A plastic-bag ban is a beneficial and rational public policy.

“Del Mar has the opportunity tonight to take a stand against one of the biggest threats to our beaches and the ocean,” he added.  “We ask that you lead on this issue. Set an example for the rest of San Diego County.”

Chris Glenn, owner of Urban Girl Accessories, said he supports the ban but suggested hotels provide reusable bags in each room for their guests because many of Del Mar’s shoppers are visitors.

John Thomas called the move an empty gesture, noting that the city is not home to any grocery or big-box stores.

“What we do have is a number of small businesses who are distressed enough as it is and really don’t deserve the burden of unneeded regulation,” he said. “If you want to feel better about yourselves by all means go online and purchase some carbon offset credits. Another empty gesture, but no bag required.”

Members of the Business Support Advisory Committee and Del Mar Village Association said they support the ban, Councilman Al Corti said.

Robin Crabtree said she likes the idea of providing visitors with reusables because, as a beach resident, she sees trashcans overflowing with plastic bags from grocery stores in nearby cities.

Councilman Dwight Worden said the city of San Diego, where the closest food markets are located, is in the process of adopting a ban, so that should decrease the number of plastic bags from being brought into Del Mar.

“When I got on council seven years ago I thought Del Mar was an environmentally friendly city,” Councilman Don Mosier said in support of the ban. “A lot of scientists, a lot of academicians here. A perfect place to be environmentally friendly.

“We have the worst environmental record in San Diego County,” he added. “We have a number of citizens who are very environmentally sensitive but we somehow offset that with people who aren’t very sensitive to the environment and … things are getting worse.”

Councilman Terry Sinnott said he supports the goal but not necessarily the means to get there.

“I’m just a little worried about city councils getting into this kind of regulation,” he said. “We’re stepping into an area that is not where we should be. We are a very tiny city.”

As such, Sinnott said the problem could possibly be solved through education.

“We could do it through the carrot not the stick,” he said. “Del Mar could really be on the forefront of this without having the stick.”

“I love the ocean,” Surfrider’s Mitch Silverstein said. “I love the planet but I also support the success of our small businesses.

“I know there are many who feel it’s not the role of government to regulate local businesses in these matters,” he added. “We should never let our political ideology get in the way of making the world a better place.

“Government has a long history of sensible environmental regulation to protect the health of humans and the planet,” Silverstein said. “Just as businesses have a right to operate without needless restrictions, people have a right to a clean beach, a landscape not overrun with litter and other basic environmental safeguards.”

Planned outreach efforts similar to those conducted in other cities include signage, information on the website, screening a documentary that describes the environmental effects of plastic and distributing free reusable bags.

The city will use $2,000 from the solid-waste recycling fund to buy the giveaway bags and pay for the rights to show “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?”