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A turf war has broken out in Santa Rosa over a proposed county bag ban.

The City Council found itself torn Tuesday between those supporting a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags and those who don't want to relinquish the city's regulatory powers to another agency.

Backers of the ban argued that it would be more environmentally effective, would create consistent regulations preferred by retailers and residents, and held little downside for the city.

"I do not hear that our concerns about local control outweigh our responsibilities as an environmental leader in this community," Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom said.

But city staff expressed unease with the measure, which the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency has been crafting for more than two years.

If the city adopted the ban, it would be unable to change the rules, such as cost of paper bags or fines for local retailers, without the approval of other members of the joint powers authority created in 1992 to increase recycling efforts in Sonoma County and its nine cities.

"It's a question of whether you wish to give up your authority," City Attorney Caroline Fowler said.

Councilman Jake Ours urged his fellow council members to heed those concerns and hold out for a solution that achieves everyone's goals but maintains the city's independence.

"I know everybody thinks that we're going to kill something but we're not, what we're doing is really protecting something," Ours said.

The debate was reminiscent of the power struggle the city engaged in earlier this year with Sonoma County over the formation of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority. In that case, the city's size gave it clout it used to negotiate substantial changes to the authority's structure. The waste management agency is far smaller entity responsible for coordinating recycling efforts.

While the issue split the council, members of the public were united. All speakers expressed a strong desire to see the city back the countywide ban.

"It would be a tragedy if the countywide ordinance fell apart because of Santa Rosa," said Anne Seeley, chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa.

Resident Nancy Richardson, who said she's brought her own bags to the grocery store for 20 years, urged the council to consider the impact of its decision beyond city limits.

"Think about the community of Sonoma County, not just Santa Rosa," she said.

But Fowler said it was her responsibility to inform the council about the implications of its actions. She said the agency had a limited role when it was formed, and it is unclear it has the legal authority to adopt such a countywide ordinance.

"This is greatly expanding the power of the waste agency," she said.

Fowler said other city attorneys in the county have similar concerns. She said she hopes to convince the attorney for the agency that a "carve out" allowing individual cities to pass their own ordinances without affecting other cities from joining a countywide measure.

"Both sides are stuck in the weeds on this," Mayor Scott Bartley said. "Out first request is to get unstuck."

Councilman Gary Wysocky said he didn't understand why staff were proposing to change direction when a regional approach in other places has been shown to be efficient and effective.

"It's kind of like Lucy holding up the football as Charlie goes to kick it, and I don't think we need to do that," he said.<NO1>

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter@citybeater

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