By CLARK MASON and BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Support for a countywide ban on carry-out grocery plastic bags continued to grow this week as two more cities and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors endorsed the concept.
Seven of the county’s nine cities and the county now have agreed to take steps toward a countywide ordinance limiting single-use bags under a proposal from the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency.
The focus is on banning the ubiquitous plastic grocery bags and placing a nominal fee on paper bags so that consumers don’t simply switch to paper.
Ultimately, the goal is a consumer shift to reusable bags to reduce litter and other environmental impacts.
“It’s come of age and it’s time to move forward,” said Healdsburg City Councilman Gary Plass before voting along with his colleagues to support single-use, carry-out bag restrictions.
The Sonoma City Council also endorsed the work on bag limitations Monday night and was joined Tuesday by county supervisors, who unanimously backed the plan.
Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Mike McGuire and Efren Carrillo expressed the strongest support, with McGuire saying plastic bags especially were a blight on the landscape.
Rules that ban plastic bags and put a fee on paper bags have been adopted by more than a dozen cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Monica, and Santa Clara, Marin and Los Angeles counties.
Still, Supervisors Valerie Brown and David Rabbitt expressed concern about the effect of new rules on consumers and on non-profit agencies that rely on single-use bags.
Both wanted assurances that the board and cities would get first say over eventual draft rules before they headed to the Waste Management Agency for approval. Under the initial proposal, the rules would have needed only the unanimous approval of the waste agency, a joint-powers body made up mostly of non-elected representatives of each of the nine cities and the county.
“For me it’s about the process and not feeling comfortable with it,” Rabbitt said. “We’re the (county’s) legislative body.”
The board agreed any draft rules plus a budget for the accompanying environmental impact report, estimated to cost $135,000 to $193,000, would first go to the individual city councils and the Board of Supervisors for approval.
The two cities yet to support the ban, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, are scheduled to take up the issue next month.
Patrick Carter, an official with the Waste Management Agency, said most cities that restrict plastic bags make exceptions for some items, such as plastic produce bags.
Overall, he said grocery stores and other retailers are not objecting to restrictions on carry-out bags.
“People are adjusting to it. There’s not a huge amount of push-back,” he said.
Still to be decided is whether the ban would extend to all retailers, such as department and drug stores.
That is expected to be determined in community meetings that will be part of the environmental impact report before any ordinance is enacted.
Preparing an environmental study also is seen as a way to avoid legal challenges.
Plastic bag manufacturers say the bans are misguided and the emphasis should be on recycling the bags. Besides, they say plastic bags are re-used for a variety of things from handling pet waste, wet bathing suits and dirty diapers.
The California Grocers Association supports a regional ordinance process.
“A unified regional approach to carry-out bag regulations provides retailers regulatory consistency and eliminates jurisdictional disadvantages,” spokesman Timothy James said in an email. “The countywide ordinance approach also creates greater predictability for consumers and provides the greatest amount of environmental gain.”