Cotati council backs ban on plastic bags
If all cities in Sonoma County approve of ban, ordinance will go into effect in spring of 2014
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By Dave Williams  September 20, 2013 12:00 am

The Cotati City Council at its meeting on Sept. 11 unanimously voted to support a possible countywide ordinance banning grocery stores and hardware stores from using plastic bags.

The vote was 4-0, with Councilman John Dell’Osso absent.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency has been working on such an ordinance for the past two years, and has made presentations to all but two cities in the county. Thus far, five have voted for the ban while two others have requested more information on the matter.

The potential ordinance would involve single bag use only at the point of sale. Plastic bags for meat or produce items would be exempt. If passed, there will be a 10-cent bag fee, which will stay with the retailer. Customers would be encouraged to bring their own reusable bags when shopping at a grocery store.

Patrick Carter made the presentation for the waste management agency. He said the agency is hoping to implement the ordinance in the spring of 2014. 

“If unanimous consent, we’ll look for certifying the environmental impact report and have the first ordinance reading in the fall and the second ordinance reading in late fall or early winter,” Carter said.

But there are roadblocks looming, particularly the City of Santa Rosa, the county’s largest municipality. Santa Rosa has expressed concerns about how the ban would be supervised. Santa Rosa is concerned it will be unable to change the rules, such as cost of paper bags or fines for local retailers, without the approval of other members of the joint powers authority.

“Primary issue is dealing with enforcement of the ordinance,” Cotati City Attorney Robin Donoghue said. “There is discussion under way. Santa Rosa’s city attorney has raised legal issues 

having to do with ability of the JPA to enact ordinance and expand into this area of the law. JPA has offered an indemnity agreement where if legal challenged, member cities indemnified from damages.”

Said Cotati Mayor Mark Landman, “I hope Santa Rosa or no other city messes it up…we’re really close. It benefits everybody if we’re working as a group. I’m supportive of this.”

Members of the Cotati council are looking for countywide consistency in the ordinance. They are hoping all cities in the county will be playing by the same rules.

“A lot of people are frustrated it (ban on plastic bags) has taken this long,” said Councilwoman Susan Harvey, who is Cotati’s representative on the JPA. “One thing, they want is consistency within county. People don’t just shop in city, they shop all over the county. Consistency for consumers is important. It’s easier for businesses to be able to deal with rules when they know what rules are and care consistent.”

There was some pushback from audience members at the Cotati meeting.

“What about all the people on food stamps?” Greg Karraker asked the council. “I’ve heard (reusable) bags can carry salmonella and other destructive bacteria and they need to be laundered frequently. So for the less fortunate citizen, it’s a tough choice…pay 10 cents for paper bags so you can solve a nonexistent problem. Are we going to take these people to Laundromat, subsidize their laundry fees? There are unintended consequences and a lot of stepping on the less fortunate just so you can feel good about it.”

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