Plastic shopping bags could be largely prohibited countywide following Tuesday decisions by the city councils of Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park to back a law that institutes the ban but allows cities to opt out — which Santa Rosa did on a split vote.
In Rohnert Park, the decision was unanimous to endorse the plan and let the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency enforce the ban in the county's third-largest city.
“The more I think about it, it seems inevitable,” said Rohnert Park Councilwoman Pam Stafford, who was among city officials who had previously resisted a countywide approach.
“There is great value in regional consistency in matters like this,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie.
But Santa Rosa, while it did not torpedo the proposed bag ban by voting against it, chose on a 4-3 vote to pass its own ban that would be identical to the county's but controlled and enforced locally.
As it stands, then, the county would enforce a ban in its unincorporated areas and eight of its nine cities, while Santa Rosa's own version would be in force within its borders.
Mayor Scott Bartley, who supported the majority's approach, called the debate over the two identical approaches “splitting hairs.”
But he argued that retaining the city's independence might actually better position it to expand its laws in the future, for example, to cover Styrofoam or to extend it to restaurants, which are now exempted.
The ordinance, pushed by a regional coalition of environmentalists and the waste agency, is designed to reduce trash sent to landfills and reliance on petroleum-based products.
Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the county's representative on the waste agency board, expressed relief at Tuesday's developments, but made clear which city's action she preferred.
“Huge kudos to Rohnert Park and I wish Santa Rosa had made that choice, too. Whenever your largest city opts out of a major policy and program such as banning plastic bags, that does defeat the purpose of a joint powers agreement,” Zane said, referring to the waste agency.