ENCINITAS — Encinitas took the first step toward a ban on expanded polystyrene food service products at restaurants — and did it in unanimous fashion.
The council voted 4-0 for the first reading of the ordinance that will ban restaurants from using the ubiquitous product six months after its adoption date. The six-month window is to give restaurants an opportunity to phase out use of the products.
Mayor Kristin Gaspar was absent from the meeting.
The council enthusiastically backed the ordinance, which proponents have argued was a strong step toward reducing the packaging product’s presence as a pollutant in local beaches and waterways.
“It is nice to have a decision that is easy, and this ban is an easy decision,” Councilwoman and mayor-elect Catherine Blakespear said. “It is clearly in line with what Encinitas residents want.”
The City Council chambers were packed with supporters of the ordinance, including environmental groups, environmentally conscious restaurant owners and residents who urged the city to pass the first reading with a unanimous vote. Many of them said that Encinitas had an opportunity and an obligation to be an example of environmental stewardship.
“Tonight’s vote is 100 percent in line with city policy and ultimate goal of achieving a zero-waste future,” said Mitch Silverstein of the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter. “If we are serious about minimizing waste, the least we can do is require standards on the types of packaging that our restaurants use.”
He was one of more than 20 speakers to speak in favor of the ban, which they city has been working on for two years.
The council was previously prepared to vote on an ordinance in October 2015, but tabled it after several restaurants complained that they weren’t informed about the impending ordinance and that a transition would be an undue financial hardship.
Following the delay, the city contracted with the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation to perform outreach to the nearly 90 restaurants that still used polystyrene products about the proposed ordinance and alternatives.
Mark Muir, who supported the delay at the time, applauded the city for its outreach efforts.
“I am proud the city took the time to meet with the restaurant owners,” he said.
Still, the California Restaurant Association, which had opposed the first attempt, renewed its opposition in recent days, hosting a press conference with a few restaurant owners who renewed their objections due to the financial hardship a switch would cause.
The association outlined an alternative plan that called on increased education, public out reach, littler clean-up, placing lidded trash and recycling receptacles at the beach and other actions short of a ban.
At Wednesday’s meeting, a handful of speakers objected to the proposal, including one who said the environmental impacts of polystyrene were being exaggerated, calling it “environmental theater.”
“Government has no right to get involved in the minutiae of our existence,” said Stephen Lord, a self-proclaimed 33-year resident of Encinitas.
The city’s proposal had included a financial incentive plan, in which the city would earmark $25,000 to reimburse restaurant owners for a portion of the purchase of alternative packaging on a sliding scale based on when the purchase was made during the six-month phase-in period.
But the council voted to delay approval of it after hearing from the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, whose CEO offered to help pay for the program with proceeds from its recent race.
Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, acknowledging the restaurant association’s proposal, said it had ideas with merit that could be done in connection with a ban, not in lieu of one.
“Those are good things to do, but that’s not what is in front of us tonight,” Shaffer said.
The council’s vote also removed an exemption for personal use of polystyrene products at local parks and city property. Shaffer likened it to the statewide cigarette ban at beaches.