A proposal to discourage single use shopping bags gained the support of the City Council on Tuesday night, setting the stage for a county-wide debate over the issue.
After much discussion about its effectiveness and how it might hurt businesses, the council voted 5-2 in favor of supporting a 25 cent fee on single use shopping bags, both paper and plastic. Shoppers wishing to avoid the fee would carry in their own bags.
Council members Tom Means and John Inks were opposed to the idea. "I'm an exclusive canvas bag shopper myself," Inks said. But this "tax," he said, would place "an enormous burden on the carryout bag industry. I can't support the resolution proposed here."
Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University, appeared to talk himself out of the idea after originally saying he was "fine supporting the resolution."
"I'm not sure this thing will ever be right," Means said. "I don't know if a quarter is too low or too high and I don't know if anyone on this [county commission could figure it out either." He said one part of the ordinance, which exempts users of food stamps, was "patronizing" and "silly."
The proposal is being put forth by Santa Clara County officials -- until recently, council member Ronit Bryant vice chaired the county recycling and waste reduction commission that drafted the ordinance -- and so far has gained only partial support, with the cities of Los Altos and Milpitas rejecting it.
"I don't think any ordinance is ever perfect," Bryant said. "But I think we should move forward with this."
Mountain View resident Cornel Fowler said he helped write the bag ordinance in San Francisco, but "like a lot of things done in San Francisco it was done first, but not necessarily right."
"It opened it up for paper bags," he said, explaining that shoppers now avoid the plastic bags and go for paper, which doesn't come with a fee in San Francisco. "All single use bags are bad," he said.
City staffers said it was unclear exactly how the bag fee would apply in the case of the farmers market, but that the ordinance could be modified with the council's input.
The only public speaker opposing the fee was a man who called himself the "representative" for the "effected industries," Ryan Kinney. He said the fee was "imposing a tax on consumers during a recession" and that plastic bags are only half a percent of the waste stream and can be recycled.
Council member Jac Siegel disagreed, saying plastic bags were littered "everywhere."
After Kinney gave each member 71 single-sided pages of information, council member Mike Kasperzak said Kinney needed to "cut down on [paper waste" with his handouts.