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PD Editorial: Who needs a bag full of bag laws?

  • Holly Halverson bags a customer's groceries at Big John's Market in Healdsburg. (Press Democrat, 2007)

Sovereignty isn't a trifling issue. We get that. But is the city of Santa Rosa really going to make a Patrick Henry-esque stand over grocery bags?

The city recently joined a regional agency to procure electricity for residents and businesses. It already belongs to a regional transportation commission, a county transit authority and SMART, among others.

The city relies on Sonoma County for library services, animal control and a landfill.

The city buys water from the county and runs a regional wastewater plant, with three other cities ceding control of that vital public service to Santa Rosa.

For two years, city officials have been working with counterparts from eight other cities and Sonoma County on an ordinance that would ban plastic carryout bags in most stores and impose a 10-cent fee for paper bags.

When it was presented this past week, the city's attorney and some City Council members objected to the loss of local control.

“It's a question of whether you wish to give up your authority,” City Attorney Caroline Fowler told the council.

“I know everybody thinks that we're going to kill something, but we're not,” Councilman Jake Ours said. “What we're doing is really protecting something.”

Just what needs protecting isn't so clear.

It's not uncommon for a city or county to adopt rules stricter than state law, or for states to have more stringent standards than federal law. If Santa Rosa officials want the authority to relax a bag ban, perhaps they should be debating whether to adopt one in the first place.

If plastic bags are to be banned — and we're not yet convinced it's necessary — the worst approach would be nine different ordinances for nine cities, plus a 10th for unincorporated areas of Sonoma County.

That would be a nuisance for businesses and consumers alike.

In June, executives of two local supermarket chains co-authored an op-ed column supporting a state law to ban plastic carryout bags and, barring that, a single rule covering Sonoma County and its cities.

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