Santa Rosa OKs plastic bag ban - with conditions
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 9:24 p.m.
Santa Rosa supports a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags, with a twist.
While many of the eight other cities in Sonoma County support a single ordinance covering the entire county, Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday they'd like to maintain a measure of local control.
“I just have concerns about relinquishing our authority,” Vice Mayor John Sawyer said.
The board of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is meeting today to decide whether to move forward with an environmental impact... assessment on the proposed countywide ban and 10-cent fee on paper bags.
The Santa Rosa council told Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips to advise the board to move forward with that review, but not to commit the city to participating in any countywide version of ban until more information is available about issues such as enforcement.
Several city council members said they were more comfortable with a “model ordinance” being established by the county that can be tweaked, implemented and enforced locally instead of imposed countywide.
City Attorney Caroline Fowler said this option is preferable to her. She said it's not clear if the joint powers authority, formed in 1992 by the county and its nine cities to divert more waste from landfills, has the legal authority to pass and enforce ordinances applicable to the member cities.
In addition, it is still uncertain how the county would enforce the ban, or provide recourse for businesses hit with the proposed $100 to $500 fines, Fowler noted.
The intent of the ban is to convince consumers to switch to reusable bags and prevent tons of plastic from fouling waterways and harming the environment.
Steve Birdlebough, chairman of the Sierra Club Sonoma Group, lamented the “exceedingly slow” process of rolling out a local ban.
Many people have already gotten the message about reusable bags, but the ban is needed to “nudge the rest of us into the reusable mode,” he said.
Retailers support a countywide approach because they want consistency and don't want to have to comply with different rules in individual communities.
Santa Rosa's position on the issue is important because it produces more trash than any other cities and because implementing the countywide ordinance requires a unanimous vote.
If Santa Rosa or other cities balk at a countywide ordinance over concerns about autonomy, then the model ordinance is another option.
But smaller cities don't like the idea of a model ordinance because it requires them to bear some additional costs.
“They've expressed grave reservations about the model ordinance,” Henry Mikus, waste authority executive director, told the council.
For Santa Rosa, the cost of drafting a local ordinance and complying with the California Environmental Quality Act was pegged at between $30,000 and $40,000.
Councilman Scott Bartley said the model ordinance may allow individual cities to enact their own ordinances more quickly because they won't have to wait for the a countywide enforcement or administrative bureaucracy to be established.
“It just seems like that a more efficient way to go,” Bartley said.
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