Woodside backs concept for banning plastic bags in San Mateo County | March 7, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - March 7, 2012

Woodside backs concept for banning plastic bags in San Mateo County

by Dave Boyce

The Town Council in Woodside has agreed in principle to join a countywide initiative now in the works that would ban the flimsy "single-use" plastic bags at retail check-out counters.

The council's 5-2 vote on Feb. 27, with councilmen Dave Burow and Tom Shanahan dissenting, adds support to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors' plans to craft an ordinance that, in addition to banning the bags, would require merchants to charge customers a small fee for a paper or durable reusable bag if they need one and haven't brought one of their own.

A county ordinance may be on the books by January 2013, according to a Woodside staff report. The supervisors would ask the cities and towns to "by reference" adopt the same ordinance.

A group effort matters because ordinances in individual communities have been vulnerable to court challenges by deep-pocketed bag manufacturers. This ordinance would be based on a county-funded environmental impact report, Dean Peterson, the director of the county's Department of Environmental Health, told the council.

"So far, no one has sued (over an ordinance) with an EIR attached," he said.

In 2010, the state Legislature considered a similar regulation that the Assembly passed but the Senate rejected on a vote of 21-14. Eight Democrats voted against it and no Republicans voted for it.

Locally, Mr. Peterson is set to speak to the Menlo Park City Council on March 13, county spokesperson Robyn Thaw said. There are no plans to contact Atherton as it has no retail, Ms. Thaw said.

The Portola Valley council will be inviting Mr. Peterson to a March or April meeting, Brandi de Garmeaux, the town's environmental programs coordinator, said in an email.

The ban would not affect the more durable clear plastic bags available for fresh produce. Customers would have to pay 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag at the checkout counter until Jan. 1, 2014, when it would rise to 25 cents.

In an email explaining his dissent, Mr. Burow, the Woodside councilman, noted that Roberts Market already credits customers 10 cents for their own bags, and that "most people" he knows bring their own bags. Incentives, not penalties, are the way to go, he said.

Woodside town staff, after visiting Roberts, Buck's of Woodside restaurant, The Village Pub and other retailers, came away with the sense that a ban would not be a surprise, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said.

Deputy Town Engineer Eunejune "EJ" Kim added: "They seemed to be pretty good with it, that it was a good thing."

The California Grocers Association approves of the concept, Mr. Peterson said.


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