Woodside joins ban on plastic bags at checkout counters | January 30, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - January 30, 2013

Woodside joins ban on plastic bags at checkout counters

by Dave Boyce

To encourage the use of reusable shopping bags, Woodside will join other local towns and follow the lead of San Mateo County government in banning single-use plastic bags at retail checkout counters starting on Earth Day (April 22, 2013). Retailers may continue to use plastic bags for certain items, such as food to go, prescription drugs and produce. Customers without bags of their own will pay 10 cents for a paper bag.

After a vigorous discussion on whether to include that fee in Woodside's law, the Town Council voted 4-2 on Jan. 22 to introduce the ordinance, with councilmen Tom Shanahan and Peter Mason dissenting, and Councilman Dave Burow absent. Barring major changes, the council may formally adopt the law at its next meeting.

The council had been considering adopting the county's ordinance in its entirety, but balked at the idea of requiring merchants to keep a record of paper bags sold.

The merchants in town have been cooperative, Town Manager Kevin Bryant has said, and the proposed law has long had the support of the California Grocers Association.

During the public hearing, Judy Sieber, who owns the downtown gift store Emily Joubert Home & Garden, held an elegant gray paper bag with logos and white handles as she argued against charging for them. "I kind of use this as a gift, in a way," she said. "It feels a little IRS-ish to me. I think we have a very smart community and people are ecologically minded."


The council had questions, and on hand to answer them was Mary Bell Austin of the county's Office of Environmental Health.

• Do reusable bags carry bacteria? The county knows of one case involving a norovirus that may or may not have been on the outside of a paper bag, Ms. Bell Austin said. "There are a lot of vectors for disease. People are going to take care, the way they do with other things."

• Will people pay the fees? They have in San Jose and San Francisco, Ms. Bell Austin said.

• What happens if Woodside forgoes an ordinance? State and federal regulations about emissions targets would still apply. "This kind of thing would help us in meeting that target," Mr. Bryant said.

The council split on the fee. Fees work, Councilman Ron Romines said. Smokers respond to higher prices and bottle deposits don't seem problematic. "I think if you charge a fee on paper bags, you're going to see a lot more use of reusable bags," Mr. Romines said.

Mr. Mason called the incentive argument "ridiculous," adding that he doesn't consider deposit fees when buying beverages. "I'm not in favor of record keeping, the fees, anything," he said at one point.

Mayor Anne Kasten voted against the record keeping and for the fee, but reluctantly. "I take umbrage at the charge for the bag," she said. "I take great umbrage at the record keeping. I am personally pleased to see that we're moving. It puts a little stake in the ground."

Mr. Shanahan got philosophical. "I don't think I was elected to the Town Council of Woodside to issue mandates and instructions to the people who live on my block and in my town," he said, then cited excess regulation as the reason Santa Clara-based Intel Corp. is building a plant in Arizona rather than California.

Councilwoman Deborah Gordon countered that regulations are important, that object lessons may be seen in the pollution and trash in Beijing and parts of Mongolia, and that Woodside's creeks used to be much dirtier. "I don't think we made all these changes by ourselves," she said. "It took some prodding by state government, by local government."

What if Woodside is the only community in the county without an ordinance, Mr. Mason asked at one point.

"Everybody will be coming here to shop!" remarked Councilman Ron Romines as the room erupted in laughter.

"It'll be a freedom zone," Mr. Shanahan said.

"When I go to Roberts Market," Mr. Shanahan remarked after the vote, "I'm going to wear a little tag that says 'I voted no.'"


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