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."
The back-and-forth comments came in a regular monthly meeting of the county Waste Management Agency at Santa Rosa City Hall.
Two months ago, the meeting was seen as the potential date for a final vote by the joint city-county body on the bag ordinance. It would ban carryout plastic bags at checkout lines countywide and add a 10-cent fee for each paper bag.
So far, five cities and the county have endorsed the regulation.
Santa Rosa's objections resurfaced last week, when, after a vigorous debate, the council told staff to find a way to satisfy their concerns about regulatory independence. City and Waste Management Agency staff are set to meet Oct. 9.
The Petaluma and Rohnert Park city councils have yet to weigh in on the final proposal. But officials with both cities have voiced reservations.
Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly said the joint powers agreement that governs the Waste Management Agency appears to provide for cases where individual cities don't want to participate in countywide programs.
In Wednesday's discussion, that option became known as a "carve out," allowing the regional ordinance to proceed but making it applicable only in the cities that want it.
Janet Coleson, attorney for the Waste Management Agency, said no language in the current document authorizes such a move. But she said she would investigate whether a minor amendment to the agreement could make that possible.