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The two-phase ordinance will first require all food establishments to provide plastic straws and utensils on request only prior to an outright ban. File photo
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Vista City Council inches closer to adopting single-use plastic ban

VISTA — In the city of Vista, single-use plastics may soon have an expiration date after city officials approved preliminary measures for an ordinance banning the materials during its April 27 meeting.

The Vista City Council directed staff to return before the July recess with an application process for a hardship waiver, and other options as the city prepares for a two-phased approach to regulating single-use plastics (SUP) and Styrofoam.

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras, who brought the item before the council, and Councilman John Franklin compromised on the waiver, which will include a sunset clause, for businesses under $1 million in yearly gross revenue. As for the implementation, the council is expecting the first phase to begin on Aug. 1.

“I don’t think we need stirrers and plastic ware,” Mayor Judy Ritter said. “I think we’re doing a great thing here.”

Amanda Lee, assistant to the city manager, said the two-phase approach consists of the Aug. 1 date, which will require all food establishments to provide plastic straws and utensils on request only, but eventually leading to a ban.

The second phase, she said, would commence July 1, 2023, and ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Styrofoam food containers such as to-go boxes, cups, plates and bowls. Lee said this timeline is so the city can conduct a robust public outreach campaign to help change habits for residents and allow businesses to find other options.

Additionally, she said the city can partner with the Chamber of Commerce and think about cost-sharing programs between businesses to save money. One resident also said the city could partner with the Vista Unified School District to involve students and their families.

“There are many alternatives to EPS food ware products such as paper or biodegradable products,” Lee said.

A number of residents and environmentalists also spoke during the item, most in support of the staff’s recommended actions. However, several said the city should truncate its EPS timeline and move it up to Jan. 1, 2023, as the city would have 16 months to conduct outreach and find solutions for businesses to comply.

Contreras and Franklin differed on some of the ordinance’s specifics, such as requiring all businesses to comply from the onset. Franklin said small businesses or family-run restaurants generating gross revenue of $1 million or less aren’t making huge profits.

He said he spoke with several owners and they operate on a net profit margin of less than 10%. Franklin said there will be an additional cost of $3,600 per year to comply as new solutions are more expensive.

“It’s an unfair burden to place an additional $3,600 on these extremely small businesses,” he said. “This million-dollar mark is gross revenue with profits under $100,000. In 10 years from now … a million dollars, with inflation, is going to chip away at that.”

Contreras, though, wasn’t sold on following the inflation model, citing a lack of official reports and data. She said other cities have implemented such bans across the board and businesses have adapted.

Also, the city has not received any letters on the issue, and even some of the speakers who are business owners did not address it.

Regardless, Councilman Joe Green played the role of dealmaker with his motion to include a hardship waiver with a sunset clause to appease both council members. The council agreed to a tentative six-month term for the waiver, although businesses would be allowed to re-apply after six months if they are still unable to cover those cost increases.

“I think if we were to add a hardship waiver for gross sales less than $1 million per year,” Green said. “I don’t like a blanket exemption across the board because they’re all going to do it.”

City staff will return in June with a draft ordinance.