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Santa Rosa may pull out of Sonoma County's plastic bag ban

  • Kayla Alberigi places groceries into plastic bags for a customer at G&G Supermarket in Santa Rosa in 2012. (Christopher Chung / PD)

Santa Rosa may bow out of a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags, dooming a two-year effort to build support for the measure.

Instead of backing the ban proposed by the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, city officials are recommending the City Council draft its own ordinance.

Doing so would allow the city “to retain local control and enforcement authority to better serve our community,” according to a report by Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips.

The countywide ban requires a unanimous vote of the 10 members of the Waste Management Agency. If Santa Rosa decides not to participate, it would kill the countywide ban.

The agency is a joint powers authority created in 1992 to increase recycling efforts. Sonoma County and its nine cities are all members.

Mayor Scott Bartley said the issue comes down to whether the city should allow other jurisdictions to have enforcement authority over businesses in the city.

“We don't want to give up the policing authority to the county,” Bartley said. “That's the bottom line.”

Some supporters of the ban were taken aback by the city's apparent change of heart after two years of support — albeit lukewarm — for the effort.

“I was just totally surprised to see that,” Cotati Councilwoman Susan Harvey said of the city report.

A countywide ban has been discussed for more than five years as a way to reduce litter and reliance on oil-based products. A regional approach is viewed by many as the best way to create consistent rules and protect smaller communities from lawsuits brought by the plastic bag manufacturers lobby.

Santa Rosa council members have in the past expressed support for the plan but also reservations about the loss of local control.

Councilwoman Julie Combs said she is a strong supporter of not using single-use plastic bags, which under the countywide ordinance are defined as less than 2.25 thousandths of an inch thick. Retailers would be required to provide paper bags of at least 40 percent recycled content, charging customers 10 cents per bag. Fines could be levied against businesses that don't comply.

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