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Council holds off on plastic bag prohibition decision

February 3, 2014

Plastic shopping bags litter a field off of Spruce Street behind Vons and Kmart. Putting an end to the widespread pollution caused by the single-used bags – from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean – is a major driving force behind two recent bills to phase them out of distribution by supermarkets and grocery stores. Photo by Darcy Ellis

A vote to determine whether Bishop joins almost 100 other towns and cities across California in supporting a statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags has been postponed a third time.
Just days before the City Council was scheduled to take up the matter at its Monday, Jan. 27 meeting, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) announced he was scrapping SB 405 – the legislation city officials were on the fence about supporting – in favor of a new bill that reportedly addresses and resolves the concerns of major business and labor groups.
At the same time, according to Padilla, the new legislation retains the mandates for plastic bag phase-outs that are supported by environmental and marine and wildlife advocacy groups.
“This bill strikes the right balance. It will not only protect the environment, it will also protect jobs as California transitions to reusable bags,” Padilla said Jan. 24. “SB 270 will help protect our environment by phasing out single-use bags in California. Single-use plastic bags fill our landfills, clog inland waterways, litter our coastline and kill thousands of fish, marine mammals and seabirds.”
Senators Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park/Long Beach) are cosponsoring the new bill, which is pending in the Assembly Labor Committee and has the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the California Grocers Association, California Retailers Association, Californians Against Waste, Environment California, Friends of the L.A. River, Mujeres de La Tierra, Californians Against Waste and Heal the Bay.
According to Padilla, SB 270 includes language that protects against potential job losses at manufacturing facilities that produce plastic bags – a major point of contention for unions with the previous bill.
Like SB 405, the new bill will still require grocery stores and pharmacies to stop giving out single-use plastic bags by Jan. 1, 2015, and convenience stores and liquor stores to stop by July 1, 2016. Like its predecessor, SB 270 also will not preempt local ordinances already in place.
The major change with the new bill is the provision of competitive loans and grants for manufacturing companies to convert to reusable bag manufacturing – if their workers are retained and retrained during the phase-out period.
Padilla’s original legislation was almost passed in 2013, but fell three votes short on May 30. It was granted a reconsideration so that it could be brought back for approval at another time. In June, when he moved his bill to the inactive file, Padilla said he remained optimistic that SB 405 or similar legislation would be approved at some point to address the widespread pollution problem caused by plastic bags. The legislator then embarked on a campaign to gain the support of local-level governments around the state, including the city of Bishop.
The City Council first considered a request to support Padilla’s bill on Nov. 25, the first time its vote was postponed in favor of hearing from the local retail community first. With results from an online survey in hand, which revealed most retailers were not opposed to a ban of single-use plastic bags, the council prepared to vote again on Jan. 14 – a discussion that ended in a tied vote, 2-2, due to Councilman Keith Glidewell’s absence.
Councilwoman Laura Smith and Councilwoman Pat Gardner voted in favor of supporting the bill; Councilman Stottlemyre – opposed from the start because of what he calls excess layers of government created by the bill – continued his stance against the bill and Mayor Jim Ellis followed.
Last Monday, City Administrator Keith Caldwell recommended postponing the council’s vote in light of new legislation being introduced.
Stottlemyre said the council’s support might even become a moot point by the time it comes back for a vote.
Ellis gave those who attended the meeting to speak on the matter a chance to address the council anyway.
“I was green before it was popular to be green,” said Jerry Gabriel. “I’m anti-plastic but I think it’s heavy handed for the government to tell us what we can carry our groceries in.”
He also called the term “single-use” a misnomer, since he personally finds plenty of additional uses for the bags beyond carrying groceries home and he would hate to see them go, saying education and promotion are preferable to prohibition.

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