ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council approved a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags at Wednesday’s council meeting, a move hailed by environmental advocates as a “historic moment” in city history.
The council voted 3-2 to adopt the two-phase prohibition, which would ban grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, convenience stories, city facilities and gas station markets from using distributing plastic bags six months after the adoption. The prohibition would expand to retail stores and farmers markets six months later.
The ordinance also requires retailers to charge 10 cents for paper bags.
“This is potentially a historic moment in the city,” said Russell Levan, one of several speakers who spoke on the topic, all of whom were in favor of the ban.
Councilmembers Tony Kranz, Teresa Barth and Lisa Shaffer voted in favor of the ban, which they agreed was necessary to thwart the damage that plastic bags have on the ocean and environment.
Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Councilman Mark Muir voted against the measure. Both Muir and Gaspar said they were in favor of allowing the state legislature to pass its own ban, which appears headed toward passage before the legislature adjourns Aug. 31.
The statewide ban, known as Senate Bill 270, would ban plastic bags at grocery stories, drug stores and large retailers by July 1, 2015, and smaller convenience stores and liquor stores a year later. Unlike Encinitas’ proposed ban, the state ban would not affect all retailers.
Gaspar’s disapproval, however, also harked back to council’s initial fast track approval in June, which she said circumvented a longstanding city practice of using quantitative data to dictate the path the city would take on certain projects.
In this case, a consultant’s report said, among other things, that increases in manufacturing and laundry loads associated with increased use of reusable bags would increase greenhouse gases to the extent it would require an full-blown environmental study to mitigate the increase.
The Council majority argued that the report laid out the worst-case scenario and used unrealistic scenarios, and voted for staff to return with a request to have the ordinance exempted from the state Environmental Quality Act, a tactic used successfully by several cities statewide to enact similar bans. Categorical exemptions are typically granted for ordinances or projects that have the purpose of protecting the environment.
“The council majority found it was inconvenient to adhere to its own policy,” Gaspar said. “I appreciate the consistency in how we apply city policies, I believe the residents deserve to have their city apply all of its policies consistently.”
The ban also includes exemptions for customers participating in subsidized food programs, and temporary exemptions for retailers that demonstrate the ban would cause an undue financial hardship.