Sonoma County, cities wrangle over plastic bag ban

Local city and Sonoma County representatives sparred Wednesday over a recent snag in progress toward a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags.

The standoff is fueled by the county's three largest cities, led by Santa Rosa, where some council members and city staff fear a countywide ordinance would force the city to relinquish regulatory powers within its borders.

Supporters of the regional effort, however, say that concern is overblown for a largely self-regulating measure. More than 80 cities and counties across the state have adopted plastic bag ordinances.

Without unanimous agreement among the county and all nine cities, the local effort, underway at the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency since early 2011, could be doomed.

"If Santa Rosa decides to pull out, it would impact all of our smaller cities ... on being able to enact an ordinance," Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. "That would be a shame. This county has been pretty progressive when it comes to environmental initiatives, and I feel that we've been behind the curve on this one."

She was sitting across from representatives of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Rohnert Park on Wednesday when she said they were allowing their city attorneys to drive public policy, their concerns "much ado about nothing."

Assistant Santa Rosa City Manager Jennifer Phillips later fired back, saying the City Council had expressed concern about the countywide ordinance for two years and had "always been interested in" the option of pursuing its own regulation instead.

City officials last May qualified their move to join all other local governments in backing continued work on a countywide ordinance. The council said their support was contingent on getting more information about issues such as enforcement.

Phillips said Santa Rosa didn't want to hold up the effort.

"I just want to be really clear that this was not in the 11th hour," Phillips said. "It's hard to make a decision before the decision point. The decision point came now."

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