City Beat

Mayor Kevin Johnson to propose plastic bag ban in Sacramento

A large pile of washed-up trash, including old plastic bags, sits alongside the Los Angeles River in Long Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on imposing the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
A large pile of washed-up trash, including old plastic bags, sits alongside the Los Angeles River in Long Beach, Calif. On Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on imposing the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. AP

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson will announce Monday a proposal to prohibit single-use plastic bags at stores in the city in the event that opponents of a newly adopted statewide ban are able to force a public vote on that legislation.

Johnson said he would propose a ban to the City Council that is identical to restrictions approved in September by Gov. Jerry Brown. The law would permit plastic bags to hold produce and some other grocery items, but ban single-use plastic bags at checkout counters. Shoppers could bring their own bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents.

The statewide law is scheduled to take effect July 15. However, opponents are collecting signatures to place a measure on the November 2016 ballot seeking to overturn the law. That campaign has until Dec. 29 to gather more than 500,000 signatures. If its effort to qualify the referendum for the ballot is successful, the statewide legislation will be suspended until the 2016 vote.

In the meantime, cities and counties would still be able to launch local bans on single-use plastic bags. Sacramento was on the verge of passing its own law last year but held back as momentum was building for the statewide legislation.

“In addition to harming wildlife and causing urban blight, single-use plastic bags cost Sacramento hundreds of thousands of dollars each year,” the mayor said in a written statement. “They cause problems by clogging up our recycling equipment, forcing it to be shut down on a regular basis. And we’re forced to use parks and other city personnel to clean up plastic bag pollution all over the city every day. These single-use plastic bags didn’t exist 40 years ago, and we want to make sure they don’t exist in Sacramento in the near future.”

The city’s Law and Legislation Committee asked city staff in February 2013 to draft a local plastic bag ordinance. Then-Councilmen Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty were the proposal’s lead supporters.

Local business interests, including the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern with the city proposal, saying it could lead to city grocery stores losing business to stores in neighboring communities without bans. Sacramento County supervisors shot down a proposed ban in 2009.

Johnson’s proposal has the support of environmental groups that are also behind the statewide legislation.

“This is a bold move by Mayor Johnson that sends the right message that we need to reduce plastic pollution and stand up to out-of-state special interests attempting to overturn our statewide law,” Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste and the campaign committee California vs. Big Plastic said in a statement. “It is powerful that Sacramento will lead the next wave of bag bans in the state if the referendum qualifies.”

The campaign seeking a referendum on the state law has raised nearly $3 million in its effort, more than half from Hilex Poly of South Carolina, according to state campaign finance records. Supporters of overturning the state law argue the ban would cost taxpayers money and benefit grocery stores that will charge for paper or reusable bags.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

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