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Plastic Bags Extinction Put on Temporary Hold

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will vote on the ban in September.

A vote regarding a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags was delayed Tuesday because of criticism from the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition (STPBC) and the California Restaurant Association (CRA).

In letters sent to the planning department Monday, both groups claimed that they had not been given enough notice about the policy, which was drafted in 2009. The letter from the CRA also claimed that the ban would put their members in the county at risk of violating health guidelines on safe packaging of food.

“We are based in Sacramento, but we have a lot of members in Santa Cruz,” said Amalia Chamorro. “If you look at the ordinances passed in any of the other jurisdictions, none of them included restaurants.”

The original proposal has been held back for almost two years while the city of Manhattan Beach has battled the STPBC for the right to pass a similar ban. Public hearings and a mitigated negative declaration study were carried out by the public works department during that time.

County Supervisor John Leopold said there has been enough notice about the ordinance but agreed to push the vote back to Sept. 13.

“For those who said they did not know about this, it has been a 16-month process," he said. "This should not be a surprise to anyone. For anyone who lives in Santa Cruz who didn't know about this ... it's a head-in-the-sand type of moment.”

The Manhattan Beach proposal was opposed by the STPBC, because it did not require a fee for distribution of paper bags, and the STPBC said this would increase paper bag use enough to cause worse damage than the millions of plastic bags distributed in the county.

The Santa Cruz County proposal requires a 10¢ fee on paper bags through 2012, with an increase to 25¢ by early 2013 to encourage use of reusable bags. Save Our Shores is optimistic this plan will work.

“We asked shoppers [leaving , and ] whether they would pay 25¢ for paper bags, and most said they would just bring their own,” said Lauren Gilligan of Save Our Shores (SOS).

Supervisor Greg Caput asked about the effect on small businesses and retailers such as bakeries, which use paper to package individual items. Tim Goncharoff of public works said the proposal exempts stores that use small paper packages, such as pharmacies and candy stores, from charging 10¢ for paper bags. Customers who receive food stamps will also receive free paper bags at all stores.

According to SOS, 88 percent of the people surveyed said they would use reusable bags if faced with a fee for paper bags. Fines for violations of the new ordinance can be charged if businesses refuse to stop using plastic bags, but public works officials don't think they will be necessary.

“A few years ago, the board passed an ordinance limiting use of Styrofoam, and [we were] in charge of enforcement,” said Goncharoff. “Typically we will get a call or email from a resident, our first job is to remind the merchant, and usually that is all we have had to do.”

He said no fines have been charged for violations of the other packaging ban, but fines starting at $200 are in the plastic bag ban law, if a business refuses to adjust to the new rules.

The board will take the bill back for a vote Sept. 13. Business owners who want more information should contact the public works or planning departments with any concerns. Businesses can apply for an extension of the six-month time limit to shift away from plastic. However, they must prove that they will be harmed financially if forced to switch over to paper by March 2012, when the ban will go into effect.

Ralph March 22, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Watsonvlle 7-11 in the Target shopping center is already charging for plastic bags if you want your items bagged. So, they jumped the gun and are lying when they say regulations require them to do that?
Cathy P. March 22, 2012 at 02:32 PM
The Ross store in the Target shopping center is also charging for plastic bags (10 cents) but at least they tell you before the total your order.
don honda March 22, 2012 at 04:09 PM
This is becoming more than a political statement--it's just becoming ridiculous. What I would do is: have your family and your neighbors go to these stores and pick up many items in your shopping cart and when it's time to ring up, then they say, "We're charging you for bags!", you say, " Well, then I don't want to buy this then. You'll need to re-stock all this." Then leave all the items on the counter for them to deal with. The other version is that you buy all the stuff, then have help to bring it to your car, and have them unload each item into your vehicle. It's called boycotting, it's called non-aggressive protesting. I'm sure if this is done en masse a few times, they'll re-think their policy of charging for bags. "Occupy-ing" is fun!
Jennifer Squires March 22, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Gotta say, it's not that hard to keep a few bags in your car and grab them on the way in to a story. There are lots of times when groups are giving them away for free, so they're easy to come by. And really, do you need to double-bag your jug of milk? It has a handle.
Chuck March 22, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Don-- I agree with you. I am for saving the environment too, which is why I saved the plastic grocery bags to pick up after my dog when I took him for walks. its also good for cat owners who scoop the cat litter. I don't like the hypocrisy of the green movement especially when they pick and choose what is 'good plastic' vs 'bad plastic'. Those plastic bags delivered with the newspaper on a rainy day, for example, are "good". Now I see recent articles about going after additional plastic and foam products, such as Nerf toys, beach balls and sand buckets; but surf boards will be okay; and some boogie boards will not. Styrofoam packing peanuts are not okay (which will affect many businesses), some bubble wrap will be okay if its covering a LCD TV from Best Buy. Being a big polluter is okay as long as you buy "Carbon Credits" to help some issue somewhere else. No wonder other locales laugh at us as we continually go further down the path to the NannyState.

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