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Richmond one step closer to banning bags

on June 9, 2011

Richmond is ready to ban the bags, and it’s put a deadline on neighboring cities to join its quest.

“We’ve been working on this for a couple years,” said Councilman Tom Butt, one of the city’s staunchest proponents of an ordinance that would ban the use of plastic bags at local grocers. “I’d just like to get on with it.”

Butt’s comments were in response to a report by city staff assessing the still-uncertain prospects that a half-dozen other Contra Costa County cities will join Richmond in banning single-use plastic bags and imposing a five-cent fee on paper bags. (Read the city’s staff report here: City report).

At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution urging the West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority to fund a regional environmental impact report (EIR) on banning single-use plastic bags.

One sticking point is the report, which is required for the ordinance because a political group called the “Save the Plastic Bag Coalition” challenged the ordinance in court, according to Councilman Jeff Ritterman.  The group is collection of businesses and plastics manufacturers that formed in 2008.

Hiring a firm to produce the EIR would cost $57,940, according to a city report, a cost that Richmond leaders want to share with other cities in the area.

“What this is about is funding the EIR,” Butt said.

Richmond has considered the plastic bag ban for several years. In recent months, local agency workers have held community meetings to inform and draw feedback from residents and business owners.

Reception to the proposed ban has been mixed, particularly among area merchants.

City officials conducted a survey earlier this year with officials from the 23rd Street Merchants’ Association, the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. Of 18 surveys completed, 12 local businesses were opposed and six in favor of a plastic bag ban, according to a city report.

Councilman Nat Bates, whose political support is particularly strong with Richmond’s growing business community, was the lone vote against Tuesday’s resolution.

At least 13 cities and counties statewide have banned plastic bags since 2007, according to the city report, and seven have coupled the ban with a fee on the use of paper bags. The ordinances are designed to incentivize the use of cloth and other reusable bags at grocery and drug stores.

Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo and El Cerrito have all expressed interest in a similar ordinance and are in various stages of feasibility studies, but no city has definitively declared that it will ban the bags. (Read this related feasibility study: Bag report)

The moves at the local level follow a failed attempt to ban plastic bags by California state legislators last year. Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) wrote the failed bill.

City Manager Bill Lindsay suggested that the council attach a 60-day deadline for other cities to sign onto the program in order to ease Butt’s concerns that the process was becoming too prolonged.

A ban on plastic bags would be another step in Richmond’s push to become a hub of environmentally friendly policies. Last year, the city passed a polystyrene ban that prohibited styrofoam takeout food packaging, requiring that all food-to-go must be packaged with biodegradable or compostable alternatives.

While support was overwhelming, it wasn’t unanimous. In addition to Bates’ vote against the resolution, Councilman Corky Booze said he was concerned about increasing costs on shoppers with fixed incomes.

“If we don’t get an exemption for my seniors, I don’t know if I will be voting [for the ban],” Booze said.

California state legislators attempted a retail plastic bag ban last year. Assemblywoman Julia Brownley wrote AB 1988 to ban single-use plastic bags. The bill failed, which meant many cities like Richmond that were waiting to see the outcome opted to take action on their own terms.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin expressed confidence that a coalition of nearby cities would form, but vowed that Richmond was prepared to go it alone.

In recent weeks, McLaughlin has repeatedly stated that the city is moving in the direction of becoming a premiere “green city,” raising its profile at the state and national level. “Cities are copying us all over,” McLaughlin said.



  1. David Yamaguchi Roe on June 10, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, what a joke.

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