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Sonoma County waste management officials are advancing a countywide push to ban carry-out plastic bags.

Last year, the county Board of Supervisors and seven of the county's nine cities supported the effort. The two remaining cities, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, have indicated they might join in.

In a series of nine meetings around the county this month, the public will be given a chance to weigh in on the shape of any county rules to limit single-use bags, including plastic and paper bags.

The current model ordinance would ban carry-out plastic bags and place a 10-cent fee on each paper bag.

Six California counties, including Marin, Alameda and Santa Clara, and 35 cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Monica, have adopted similar rules. They cover most retailers, with exceptions that include restaurants, thrift ships and dry cleaners.

The goal is to shift consumers to reusable bags to reduce litter, conserve space in landfills and address other environmental impacts. Nearly 300 million plastic and paper bags are used in Sonoma County every year, officials estimate.

This month's meetings held by the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency will gauge public opinion and gather input on how limits on single-use bags might be crafted locally.

"Do people want them? Do they think they're too stringent? Do they think they're not stringent enough?" said Patrick Carter, a waste management official.

The evening meetings start next week in Petaluma.

The feedback will go to the 10-member Waste Management Agency board, which could decide as soon as April 18 on how to proceed with single-use bag rules.

The joint-powers body is made up mostly of non-elected representatives of each of the nine cities and the county.

County supervisors last year sought assurances that any draft rules would be cleared with the county board and city councils before final approval.

Carter said that step would happen either through direction given to each government's appointee to the agency or through formal hearings before the local government bodies.

An environmental report would also be needed to evaluate impacts from any rulemaking. Previous cost estimates of $135,000 to $193,000 for the EIR have come down significantly, to as low as $50,000, because of the number of municipalities pursuing bag bans, Carter said.

On the North Coast, Fort Bragg, Ukiah and Mendocino County are conducting environmental studies connected to future bag rules.

Following endorsements by seven Sonoma County city councils last year, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park council members earlier this year weighed in on local bag restrictions in a study session and at a waste management subcommittee meeting, respectively, Carter said.

Rohnert Park representatives have asked for answers about protection from lawsuits and other issues before scheduling the matter for a full council discussion, said City Manager Gabe Gonzales.

Gonzales noted lawsuits brought by groups representing plastic bag manufacturers. They claim the bans are misguided, pointing to the wide re-use of plastic bags in households. Instead, they have urged expanded recycling of plastic bags.

The California Grocers Association, meanwhile, has voiced support for regional bag rules, saying unified countywide ordinances are easier on grocers and consumers and provide greater environmental gains.

Teejay Lowe, chief executive of local grocer G&G Supermarkets, said the company would want to have a say on the design of any countywide bag rules.

Lowe acknowledged increased consumer preference for reusable totes, but voiced concerns about the possible impact of "onerous regulations" on single-use bags.

"We have to have our input heard," he said. "And we cannot, especially in these times, be put at an economic disadvantage."

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

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