If a local ban on plastic bags eventually comes to pass, it appears it won't be because of support from Pinole's elected officials — at least not yet. The city council refused to endorse drafting a regional ordinance Tuesday, when a motion to do so failed to get support.
The motion proposed that Pinole join other West County cities in coordinating to develop an ordinance. The convenient, widely-used bags have been vilified by critics as contributing to pollution, and a growing number of cities have passed or are considering similar action.
The West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority is drafting an ordinance based on others that have been approved in other California cities. The authority, also known as RecycleMore, is a joint government agency charged with reducing landfill waste in West Contra Costa County cities. It was created because of a 1989 state law that mandated a 50 percent reduction in trash.
The issue never rose to the level of an official vote Tuesday after a motion by Councilman Pete Murray failed to be seconded by any other council members. Murray, who represents the city on the waste management committee, has been a proponent of a ban. Last year, he noted that he was shocked at the number of bags he and other volunteers collected from around San Pablo Bay during the California Coastal Cleanup Day.
As proposed, the ban would not apply to produce bags, but stores would charge customers five to 25 cents for each paper bag used for their purchases.
"We have a serious issue with the bags and the pollution that they're causing," Murray said. "We're arguing over a nickel now to do something that is actually right. Recycling and charging for recycling is nothing new. It's something that's worked in the past, and it's worked quite well."
Councilwoman Debbie Long said too much conflicting or unclear data about plastic bag re-use had been presented to the council. She also said the range of the cost per paper bag and the possibility that it would increase over time concerned her.
"I find other facts that say that four out of five households recycle," Long said. "They may not turn them into the grocery store but they do use them for other uses. Right now I see that (the proposal) is full of holes. It wasn't a decision that I reached lightly."
Councilman Tim Banuelos agreed that more information is needed for him to go forward.
"In our house we use them all, Banuelos said of plastic bags. "I've told my wife we better start stockpiling these because they might be going away. I was really conflicted on this. I couldn't even even do the second. I still have some questions that haven't been answered yet. The solution hasn't totally jelled yet."
After his motion died, Murray lamented inaction on the issue.
"This is a problem that's going to be a bigger problem every day we wait," Murray said. "I believe the rest of these cities are going to go through with this. We'll be the only one not going through with it. I never thought we'd be less progressive than the cities of Richmond and San Pablo, but it looks like we are. Sometimes I think it's kind of the redneck attitude that we have at times."
Mayor Roy Swearingen did not attend the meeting, and as mayor pro tem, Murray chaired the meeting. A final ordinance is likely to come back to the council for consideration later this year or early next year.
In July, the California Supreme Court ruled that the city of Manhattan Beach did not have to conduct a full environmental impact report prior to adopting a plastic bag ordinance.
RecycleMore has agreed to pay for a less costly environmental review for the West County cities at an estimated cost of $20,000.