Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
The city delayed enacting a bag ban until July, allowing merchants more time to adjust to the ordinance.
The familiar question of “paper or plastic?” will likely be a thing of the past for many Los Altos businesses.
The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved the introduction of an ordinance last week that bans most Los Altos merchants from offering customers single-use plastic bags by July 4 – Independence Day.
The council’s action comes after several cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including Los Altos, participated in a regional Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that examined the impacts of single-use plastic bags. According to a staff report, Los Altos’ ordinance closely mirrors a model ordinance produced by the report for participating cities to adopt. The council then instructed city staff in January to proceed with the ordinance.
In addition to its vote on the ordinance, the council also adopted resolution 2013-04, certifying the EIR.
“I’m delighted that we are going to be moving forward with this,” said Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw, prior to the council’s vote. “I think that it’s exciting … Personally, the Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays, and I think (the bag ban) would be a great way to celebrate it.”
The ordinance – which returns to the council for final adoption Tuesday – applies to all city retailers selling clothing, food and personal items. Protective bags for produce, meat and prescriptions, among other items, are still allowed under the ordinance, as are dry-cleaning garment bags.
Beginning July 4, retailers must charge customers a minimum of 10 cents for the use of a single recycled-content paper bag or reusable plastic or cloth bag. The charge will increase to 25 cents Jan. 1, 2015. Retailers must also itemize customer-purchased bags on sales receipts and store those transaction records for a minimum of three years.
The ordinance allows exemptions for restaurants, fast-food establishments and nonprofit resellers such as Goodwill. However, the council directed city staff to explore administratively extending the ban to nonprofits to “level the playing field,” as Councilwoman Megan Satterlee stated, without triggering an addendum to the EIR at a cost of $2,000.
The council also unanimously opted to delay the ordinance’s implementation from its original date of April 22 – Earth Day – to July 4 after some expressed reservations about the earlier date’s impact on merchants.
Los Altos Village Association (LAVA) Executive Director Nancy Dunaway told the council her group supported the ban, but she asked for more time so that merchants could adjust to the regulation.
“We would like our retailers to be able to use up their existing stock of bags, order appropriate bags that fall within the ordinance and reprogram their cash registers and devise an accounting system for the sale and inventory of bags,” Dunaway said.
Chamber of Commerce President Julie Rose echoed those sentiments, telling the council that implementing the ordinance on Earth Day would give retailers and shoppers too little time to comply.
“I think businesses, and our customers too, really need the time to be aware of this,” Rose said. “We have no problem with the provisions in the (ordinance), but timing is an issue. … This city has gone 60 years without this ordinance. I can’t imagine why we can’t wait a few more weeks or a few more months to have it happen and do it right.”
One item the council opted not to pursue was a $13,000 appropriation request by city staff for community outreach and education about the new ordinance. Councilmembers instead called for a collaborative effort between the city and community groups – such as GreenTown Los Altos, LAVA and the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce – to provide outreach and education to merchants and residents.
Public Works Director Jim Gustafson told the Town Crier that an enhanced polystyrene ordinance would likely head to the council in the near future, after San Jose completes a California Environment Quality Act study on the regional impacts of polystyrene container use.