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Solana Beach adopts bag ban, exempts restaurants

SOLANA BEACH — Paper or plastic will no longer be an option in Solana Beach. 

At the May 9 meeting, the city became the first in the region to regulate the distribution of single-use plastic bags by adopting an ordinance introduced two weeks earlier.

But to avoid a lawsuit, council members agreed to an amendment that will exempt restaurants.

“We are responding to a specific litigation threat from a group that is very much in opposition of the proposed regulation,” City Attorney Johanna Canlas said. “That particular group has since threatened litigation three different times.”

Stephen Joseph, an attorney representing the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, threatened to sue any city that bans or requires a charge for the use of single-use plastic bags at restaurants. He said such a mandate is contrary to California health laws.

“The law clearly states you are not pre-empting state law,” Canlas said. “The Save the Plastic Bag organization found that to be lacking and has reinstituted its threat to litigate against the city if the city adopts the ordinance as is.

“While my office (and) I do not believe that the proposition — that it is in fact pre-empted by state law — has merit, this issue has not been litigated and is currently in litigation in Northern California,” she said.

Canlas told council members they could adopt the law as is or have her draft an amendment “that explicitly … exempts restaurants from using single-use plastic bags until such time that this issue has been resolved in the courts.”

The new law will be implemented in phases. Grocery stores, food vendors, pharmacies and city facilities must be in full compliance in three months. All remaining affected retail establishments and vendors will have six months.

Businesses are encouraged to offer incentives such as a 5-cent rebate or credit for customers who shop with reusable bags. Store owners can provide recycled paper bags but they must charge at least 10 cents each.

People on welfare programs will be given reusable or recycled paper bags at no cost. Anyone who can demonstrate undue hardship will be granted a one-year exemption.

Violators can be fined up to $1,000.

“I am here because I really care about this issue and you have the power to make change,” Evan Lewis, an elementary school student, said before the vote. “A good decision here will have a snowball effect.

“When a snowball rolls down a hill, it grows bigger and bigger,” he said. “Your decision will help save our environment and, like a snowball, it will grow in size and inspire others to take action and do the right thing.”

Mark Franovich, an Encinitas resident who sells paper, plastic and reusable bags, said the law would likely help his business but he asked council members to reconsider.

“A lot of the information that you’re getting now is, unfortunately, not true on both sides,” he said, noting that according to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling rates for single-use bags have increased from 5 percent to 12 percent in the past four years.

“I sincerely can’t understand why we want plastic bags to go away,” Franovich said. “The problem is one that human beings have had trouble solving forever, and that’s human behavior. The problem’s not the bag. The problem is us.”

“I don’t want to quibble with statistics,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said. “We have a mandate from so many of our residents and businesses around town to do this. I’m proud of our city. I think we did the ordinance right.”

“This is a historic step forward,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “The citizens of this community have begged us for years to do this and we’ve held off under threat of litigation.

“We finally said we are proceeding,” he said. “It’s time to do this.”