SOLANA BEACH — Solana Beach will soon be the first city in San Diego to essentially ban single-use plastic bags. At the April 25 meeting, council members unanimously approved an ordinance that aims to reduce, rather than completely eliminate, carry-out plastic bags.“The community has empowered us — really requested us — to act on this tonight,” Councilman Dave Roberts said. “This is the right thing to do…I think this is a great step forward.”
The new law will be implemented in phases. Grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities must be in full compliance three months after final adoption of the ordinance. All remaining affected retail establishments, vendors and nonprofit vendors will have six months.
The ordinance will likely be adopted during a second reading at a council meeting in May and go into effect 30 days after that, giving businesses until September or December to adjust.
All retail establishments, events sponsored or permitted by the city such as Fiesta del Sol and farmers markets, city facilities and city-managed concessions will be prohibited from distributing the plastic bags.
Businesses are encouraged to offer incentives such as a 5-cent rebate or credit for customers who shop with reusable bags. Store owners can provide recycled paper bags but they must charge at least 10 cents each. Money will go back to the businesses, not the city.
People on welfare programs will be given reusable or recycled paper bags at no cost. Anyone who can demonstrate undue hardship will be granted a one-year exemption.
Violators can be fined up to $1,000.
The initial study for the proposed law was available for a 30-day public review that ended March 13. The city received about 20 comments, mostly supporting the move, although some were in opposition.
More than two dozen e-mails were sent to City Hall in the two days leading up to the council meeting. Again, most but not all supported the law.
“While I think your intentions are good, and I personally have stopped using plastic bags, I just don’t think we need government telling us what grocery bags to use,” resident Blayne Hartman wrote. “I think most adults are capable of making this decision by themselves.”
Greg Gordon disagreed. “Plastic bag recycling has proven ineffective, as have voluntary efforts,” he wrote.
Chris Duggan, from the California Restaurant Association, said his organization supports the new law, but it “goes a little bit too far.”
Duggan said other cities with similar regulations, such as Santa Monica and Long Beach, have exemptions for restaurants because of the possibility of cross-contamination.
In an e-mail, Stephen Joseph, an attorney representing the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, threatened to sue any city that bans or requires a charge for the use of plastic, single-use bags at restaurants. He said such a mandate is contrary to California health laws.
City Attorney Johanna Canlas disagreed.
“It is not the city’s intent to pre-empt state regulations,” she said, noting a section in the new law that states, “Nothing in this chapter shall prohibit the provision of bags, including single-use, plastic carry-out bags, as may be necessary to comply with the California retail food code or any other state or federal law.”
“I feel that is sufficient to address the concern as to health issues,” Canlas said.
Nearly all of the approximately 20 area residents who spoke at the meeting cited the harm the bags have on the environment and urged council members to adopt the ordinance.
“Let’s just get it done,” Peter Zahn, founder of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, said.
“You have the ability to show the bigger (cities) how it needs to be done,” said Johnny Pappas from Surfrider Foundation.
Encinitas resident Marty Benson planned to take that thought to his City Council.
“I would love to wave this in their faces,” he said before the vote.
With a population of nearly 13,000, it is estimated Solana Beach residents use approximately 6.5 million single-use, plastic bags annually. Currently, there are 44 other cities in California that have adopted similar laws.
“I know that we’re not the first,” Councilman Mike Nichols said. “I hope that we’re not the last.”