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.