As anticipated, with the county Board of Supervisors banning the flimsy "single-use" plastic bags at retail check-out counters in unincorporated communities, the town of Woodside will follow through on its stated intentions and consider signing on to the county's ordinance to cover retail outlets within town boundaries.
The topic is the first order of new business when the council meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, at Independence Hall near the corner of Woodside and Whiskey Hill roads. If the council acts on its 2012 vote of support for the concept of banning the bags, it could introduce an ordinance on Tuesday and adopt it at a subsequent meeting. The law would take effect 30 days later.
In February 2012, the council voted 5-2, with councilmen Dave Burow and Tom Shanahan dissenting, to support the county's plans that, in addition to banning the bags, would require merchants to charge customers a small fee for a durable reusable paper bag if they need one and haven't brought one of their own. The county's ordinance, meant to encourage the reuse of bags, takes effect on Earth Day, April 22, 2013.
The restrictions would not apply to restaurants or nonprofits, nor would they ban the plastic bags used within a grocery store for carrying items such as fresh produce to the checkout counter. The California Grocers Association has endorsed the concept.
The ordinance is designed to be adoptable by 24 incorporated communities on the Peninsula and to insulate them from possible lawsuits from bag manufacturers. To create a durable law meant to withstand a court challenge, the county included in its ordinance an environmental impact report, an expensive undertaking for a small community.
"So far, no one has sued (over an ordinance) with an EIR attached," Dean Peterson, the director of the county's Department of Environmental Health, told the council in 2012.
The Portola Valley council is on record as supporting the county's ordinance and is likely to soon consider signing as well. There are no retail businesses in Atherton.
Before going forward with approving the ban, the Menlo Park council decided to research whether it can make several revisions to the law, including a clause that would allow the council to vote on whether to implement any future changes made to the law by the county.
Woodside merchants have been expecting the law, Town Manager Kevin Bryant told the council.
As to his dissenting vote in 2012, Councilman Burow told the Almanac that he dislikes using public money to address an issue like this one. With no law on the books, Mr. Burow said that Roberts Market, which has stores in Woodside and Portola Valley, chose to stop dispensing plastic bags at checkout counters and credits customers 10 cents for bringing their own bags. Incentives, not penalties, are the way to go, he added.
The bags are a hazard because they are lightweight and easily escape into the environment where they can be blown about. They're found in great numbers in the ocean, including in huge gyres of trash in the Northern Pacific, where they eventually break down into tiny pieces and are ingested by unsuspecting creatures, thus contaminating the food chain with hydrocarbons.