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Petaluma to weigh changes to countywide plastic bag ban

The Petaluma City Council on Monday will consider supporting changes to a countywide waste management policy that would allow a regional ban on single-use plastic bags, while enabling cities to opt out and pass their own ordinances.

A countywide bag ban has been discussed for more than five years as a way to reduce trash sent to landfills and reliance on oil-based products. Sonoma County environmentalists sought a unified, countywide law, but concerns from some members of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency about local jurisdiction scuttled that plan.

Instead, the agency is asking its members — each city and the county — to approve changes to its charter that enable the agency to pass regional ordinances for new "non-core" programs that go beyond its mission of recycling household waste, wood, yard and hazardous waste, and providing education.

The proposed amendments also would allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of those non-core programs and enact their own ordinances.

Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Windsor and Cotati have approved the changes. Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Rohnert Park and Cloverdale are scheduled to consider them in the next two months, Petaluma City Manager John Brown said.

The agency has argued that a countywide bag ban would create consistent rules that consumers and retailers want, increasing the effectiveness and compliance of any new ordinance.

In 2011, Petaluma's council supported the concept of a countywide bag ban with a 10-cent charge for paper bags. Its members supported allowing the county to enforce an ordinance in Petaluma.

But without the proposed changes to the waste management agency's charter allowing cities to opt out, a unanimous vote on a countywide ordinance was necessary. Several cities, including Santa Rosa, expressed concerns about relinquishing their regulatory powers to another agency.

Waste management agency officials have said the proposed amendments appear to satisfy concerns of those jurisdictions.

Across the state, 80 cities and counties have adopted plastic-bag ordinances.

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