Business & Real Estate

Is one small California city exempt from the state’s plastic bag ban?

A Raley’s store in Sacramento offers reusable bags for 10 cents. Sacramento and other cities banned single-use plastic bags, but bag makers are trying to overturn a statewide ban with Propositions 65 and 67. To read previous arguments for and against other ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed.
A Raley’s store in Sacramento offers reusable bags for 10 cents. Sacramento and other cities banned single-use plastic bags, but bag makers are trying to overturn a statewide ban with Propositions 65 and 67. To read previous arguments for and against other ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed. Sacramento Bee file

As plastic bags are taken off checkout counters across California, one Placer County suburb says its businesses are protected from the statewide plastic bag ban.

In August 2014, Lincoln passed a resolution intended to allow businesses to choose whether or not to follow a statewide bag ban. Now that voters have upheld the ban by voting in Proposition 67, Lincoln says its businesses are exempt.

The state legislation underlying Proposition 67, SB 270, contains a clause that any local public agency that “adopted, before September 1, 2014, an ordinance, resolution, regulation, or rule relating to reusable grocery bags, single-use carryout bags, or recycled paper bags may continue to enforce and implement that ordinance, resolution, regulation, or rule.”

Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said that clause was intended to apply to the more than 100 cities that passed ordinances restricting the use of plastic bags before Sept. 1, 2014 – not to a city trying to get out of banning plastic bags.

“That was clearly the intent of the preemption language in the law,” Murray said. Lincoln is the only city that chose to go this route, he said.

Lincoln City Councilman Paul Joiner said the the city’s attorney interpreted the language to mean Lincoln could pass a resolution that would leave it up to businesses to decide whether to follow the state’s plastic bag ban. Some will probably do so, he said, “especially the larger national or state chains – it doesn’t make sense for them to have two policies.”

“Smaller, local boutique businesses will have that right preserved for them,” he said.

Tom Cosgrove, CEO of the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce, said to his knowledge, some local businesses are still using plastic bags and some have opted to follow the state ban.

“Many of the businesses are trying to figure out what it all means,” he said. “It’s up to the individual business owner (to use plastic bags or not).”

Sunny Vhatta, manager of Fotos Market on Fifth Street in Lincoln, was unaware Lincoln had any special protections in place. He’s heard Walmart and other big stores are charging for single-use bags, he said, but Fotos is still using plastic bags without charge and will continue to do so. Vhatta said he thought small businesses were exempt from the statewide ban.

But Murray said any store that sells alcohol, as Fotos does, has to comply with the plastic bag ban.

Jason Rhine with the League of California Cities said the league didn’t provide any guidance on local ordinances. The cities acted on their own and tailored their ordinances to suit their individual needs, he said.

Murray said he thinks Lincoln residents have more reason than most to want to stop using the single-use plastic bags since the Western Regional Sanitary Landfill sits on the edge of the city. When it comes to litter, plastic bags blowing around town aren’t from shoppers dropping the bags after shopping, he said. The thin plastic bags blow off the face of the landfill and litter residents’ backyards.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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