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Solana Beach to keep 10-cent fee for paper bags

SOLANA BEACH — A 10-cent fee for paper bags will remain in effect in Solana Beach, where their single-use plastic counterparts have been banned since late last year. 

After more than an hour of public input and discussion at the March 27 meeting, Councilman Tom Campbell received no support from any of his colleagues for a motion to further explore options that would allow retailers, rather than the city, to determine what fee, if any, they want to charge.

“I think we’ve exhausted this subject,” Councilman Peter Zahn said. “To have a motion and a mandate that we look at further alternatives I don’t think is a productive use of time … and staff.”

The council voted unanimously in May 2012 to ban single-use carryout plastic bags.

Of Solana Beach’s more than 460 licensed retail businesses, approximately 160 provided the plastic bags, resulting in about 6.5 million of them being distributed annually in the city

The law was implemented in two phases — in August for grocery stores, food vendors, pharmacies and city facilities and in November for retail businesses and other vendors. Restaurants are exempt.

Storeowners can provide recycled paper bags but they must charge at least 10 cents each. That provision was included at the request of the California Grocers Association and is supported by the California Retailers Association.

They claim the main purpose of the fee is to encourage the use of reuseable bags and discourage customers from just switching from plastic to paper, since making paper bags has a greater impact on the environment.

The money collected goes back to the businesses.

City officials hoped the stores would use it to promote and encourage reuseable bags rather than cover the cost of the paper bags.

Of the 71 jurisdictions in the state that have similar bans, 65 charge anywhere from 10 cents to 25 cents for paper.

While most Solana Beach residents support the ban, some have complained about paying for something that was free six or seven months ago.

Campbell asked that the ban be revisited after one-time Mayor Celine Olson made a request at a January meeting, but he said he had heard complaints from other residents and businesses as well.

When it was announced the ban would be revisited, the city received dozens of emails from residents who mostly support keeping the law in place as is, including representatives from Vons and CVS Caremark, the city’s biggest retailers.

“Our experience in other jurisdictions shows that amending the ordinance to delete the mandated charge for paper will dramatically increase single-use carryout bag usage,” wrote Carlos Illingworth, director of public affairs for Vons, and Eric Douglas, senior director of government affairs for CVS.

“Moreover, our experience in other cities demonstrates that ordinances like Solana Beach’s proposed amendment would significantly increase our operation costs,” they wrote. “If correctly implemented a ban of plastic coinciding with a charge for paper ordinance can achieve maximum environmental gain with minimal business disruption.”

But Mark Tackabery, senior manager for Retail Properties, wrote that customers at Lomas Santa Fe Plaza “like the new no plastic bag ordinance, but they don’t like paying the $.10 paper bag fee.”

Jane Morton described the fee as “offensive,” and Doug Friedman said when he learned he would have to pay for paper bags, he decided to shop elsewhere.

“I care for the environment but I do not believe that this ban is the way to make a statement or even help the environment in a significant way,” he wrote.

Others, such as Jeanette Freeman, said they don’t mind paying the fee.

“Sometimes I forget my bags and have to pay 10 cents, but I think that at this point I have saved several hundred plastic bags from ending up as landfill,” she wrote. “I am happy about that.”

Another two dozen people addressed council during the meeting, including a representative from the California Grocers Association, who said it costs the stores 10 cents for each paper bag.

“With all due respect I have a really hard time accepting that,” Campbell said. “I just don’t buy it. … They don’t want to bear impact on their bottom line.

“I don’t believe it’s costing Vons or CVS 10 cents for a paper bag,” he added. “If they can show me that I’m wrong I’ll eat those words.

“I truly do support the ban on plastic bags,” Campbell said. “I have no problem with that at all. And I don’t even have a problem with the fee.

“My problem is that it’s being mandated by the city,” he said. “If they feel they need to charge a fee for a paper bag, then let them do it. Right now, they’re making money off of this. Of course they don’t want us to change.”

Rather than change the ordinance, council directed staff, with help from Surfrider Foundation and the city’s Clean and Green Committee, to work with retailers and better educate everyone about why the fee exists.