The Coast News Group
A paper bag, which would cost 10 cents under a draft Encinitas bag ban, holds groceries. The city opted to develop a plastic bag ban ordinance, instead of waiting to see what happens at the state level. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Encinitas moves forward with local plastic bag ban ordinance

ENCINITAS — The City Council opted last week to place the fate of a plastic bag ban in local hands, rather than those of state legislators. 

With council members Mark Muir and Kristin Gaspar opposed, the council voted 3-2 to direct staff to develop a citywide plastic bag ordinance. The ordinance will go in front of the council for an up or down vote sometime next year.

A week earlier, the City Council approved a resolution supporting legislation for a statewide ban. Authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, the lawmaker intends to introduce the bill in January 2014.

But Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said that she’s not as optimistic as most are that Padilla’s legislation will pass, making a local ordinance important. But in the event the statewide bill is adopted, Encinitas would likely abandon its own ordinance before city staff members have the chance to dedicate time and money to it.

“I think it’s in the interest of the environment, which can’t wait until the state gets its act together,” Shaffer said.

Gaspar said she’s in favor of the statewide ban route, because it puts cities on an even playing field and doesn’t pit “community versus community.” Once the California legislature votes on the ban, Encinitas should proceed from there, she added.

“For me, timing is of the essence here,” Gaspar said. “I’d like to see how Padilla’s bill plays out, and then consider whether an ordinance is appropriate for Encinitas.”

Muir raised concerns that the city might have to complete an environmental impact report (EIR) to move forward with a plastic bag ban.

Similar worries have cropped up before. In 2008, Encinitas moved to eliminate plastic bags, but reversed course when facing a costly EIR.

City Attorney Glenn Sabine noted experts are saying it’s “highly unlikely” cities with fewer than 100,000 people like Encinitas will be required to submit an EIR in light of recent case law.

Notably, the California Supreme Court ruled about two months ago that Marin County did not have to submit an EIR to prohibit plastic bags.

Three public speakers, all in favor of a local ban, spoke at the meeting.

Roger Kube, chair of the San Diego Surfrider Foundation, said plastic pollution wreaks havoc on land and waterways. Eliminating plastic bags locally is a “crucial first step” toward addressing the problem.

“Perhaps we’ll see a statewide bag ban bill next year, maybe we won’t,” Kube said. “But Encinitas should not wait for that to happen.”

He added that the California bill is “watered down” compared to the Encinitas’ draft ban proposal. The state ban would apply to food-serving stores that gross more than $2 million per year in sales and large retailers.

The Encinitas draft version, however, would take effect in nearly all grocery stores and retailers, and eventually also for most other businesses and farmers’ markets. Restaurants would be exempt.

Councilman Tony Kranz agreed that the state bill has “some holes in it.” Encinitas should show leadership with a ban and hopefully coastal communities like Carlsbad and Oceanside will follow suit, he added.

Early this year, the council asked the Encinitas Environmental Commission to draw up the loose framework for a ban. In response, the commission’s recommendations, similar to Solana Beach’s ban, call for eliminating plastic bags at most businesses and charging consumers 10 cents per recycled paper bag.

The intent behind the 10-cent fee is to steer customers away from purchasing paper bags (money collected stays with the business.) City staff members will build a full-blown ordinance around the commission’s recommendations. Once they start, it could take around three months to create.

Bobby Virk, owner of the 7-11 on Coast Highway 101, said the store stopped offering customers plastic bags in 2008.

“We have a beautiful coast, so I figured let’s try it out,” Virk said. “And it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”