Petaluma City Council members Monday night unanimously endorsed changes to a regional waste management agreement that would allow for the creation of a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags.
The amendments to the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency joint powers agreement would also give members — each city and the county — the flexibility to adopt their own ordinance with county enforcement or local control.
Any major amendments to the two-decades-old regional agreement must be approved by all members. Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Windsor and Cotati have approved the change. Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, Rohnert Park and Cloverdale are set to consider the issue in the next two months.
The council will vote on a formal resolution to the changes in January. An ordinance actually regulating plastic bags would come later.
Councilwoman Kathy Miller said she supported a ban and changes to the regional agreement.
"I would like more information about the regional approach versus a city approach before weighing in on that — specifically cost information," she said.
Other council members, too, had questions about whether the city would be indemnified from any legal challenges if the county enforced a regional ban or whether the city would be ceding too much enforcement control to another agency.
A regional ban on single-use plastic bags — at most retailers, but not restaurants — has been discussed for more than five years as a way to reduce trash sent to landfills and reliance on petroleum-based products.
Retailers and environmentalists sought a uniform countywide law, but concerns from some of the member agencies of the county waste management board expressed concerns about jurisdiction and enforcement, halting that effort.
Instead, the agency is asking its members to approve changes to its charter to enable the agency to pass its own ordinances for new "non-core" programs like a bag ban that go beyond the agency's original mission.
The amendments would also allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of those non-core programs and enact their own ordinances that could be enforcement by the county or locally.
Also supporting a ban, Councilman Mike Harris said "the science is clear, the environmental concerns are clear."
Retailers wanted consistency, he said, and "it's important to adhere to that."
The agency has argued that a countywide ban would create consistent rules that consumers and retailers want, increasing the effectiveness and compliance of any new ordinance. About 80 other cities and counties have adopted plastic-bag ordinances statewide.
The proposed local ban would affect a range of retail outlets, including grocery, clothing, hardware and drug stores, electronics vendors and convenience and liquor stores. It would not apply to bags that hold meat or produce, or to restaurants, stand-alone delis or charities.
Retailers would be required to provide paper bags of at least 40 percent recycled content, charging customers 10 cents per bag. Fines could be levied against businesses that don't comply, though few expect that to be necessary.
You can reach Staff Writer LoriA. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.