Palo Alto bans plastic bags

Despite threat of lawsuit, new rule to take effect Sept. 18; city ponders broader bans

Despite a threatened lawsuit and opposition from area grocers, the Palo Alto City Council voted Monday night to ban plastic checkout bags from local grocery stores, effective Sept. 18.

The council also indicated that broader bans on the bags would soon be implemented, along with a campaign to convert more shoppers to cloth or other reusable bags. These include a ban on checkout plastic bags at all local stores and a restriction on plastic bags that cover newspapers during the rainy season.

The council voted 7-1, with Councilman John Barton dissenting and Councilman Larry Klein absent, to institute the grocery-bag ban. But the vote came only after extensive wrangling over details of the new ordinance.

A few councilmen advocated delaying the discussion until they've had a chance to discuss the potential legal risk in a closed session with City Attorney Gary Baum. Barton asked his colleagues to put off the discussion to a date uncertain because "the legal landscape has changed."

Councilmen Pat Burt and Yiaway Yeh agreed, but the rest of the council opted to proceed with the initial bag ban.

Vice Mayor Jack Morton urged colleagues not to delay the process any further, even if a lawsuit seems inevitable. He noted that the council had already been discussing the issue for months and said a closed session wouldn't provide members any information they didn't already have.

"I think it's un-Palo Altan of us to stop this in mid-process and go into a closed session," Morton said.

"It's incumbent on us to move forward even if it may not be a favorable litigation arena, since I believe in all likelihood we will still be sued," he added.

The council last discussed the proposed ban in November, at which time members expressed unanimous support for the limited bag ban. But last month, Manhattan Beach saw a judge overthrow its own recently passed ordinance because the city failed to complete an in-depth environmental review and an environmental impact report.

The industry-backed group, which successfully challenged the Manhattan Beach ordinance, also said it plans to take Palo Alto to court over its new ordinance. Palo Alto also chose not to do an EIR.

Stephen Joseph, an attorney representing the group, argued that banning plastic bags would only force people to use more paper bags, which would cause even more environmental destruction.

The group's campaign, he said, is a response to the "myths, misinformation and exaggerations that have been spread about plastic bags for several years." Minutes before the council voted, Joseph said the group would file a writ of mandate in superior court, challenging the ordinance.

"The city's defense of the case will be a further waste of taxpayer money," Joseph said.

Grocers also asked the council not to act too hastily. Timothy James, representing the California Grocers Association, said the ordinance unfairly singles out grocery stores rather than coming up with a uniform rule for all businesses. He also said the new ordinance would have very little environmental benefit.

"In other jurisdictions, citizens simply moved to paper bags, which have their own challenges," James said.

The ban on checkout plastic bags at grocery stores would not apply to plastic bags used in meat and produce departments.

The ban would only impact four local supermarkets: Safeway, JJ&F, Andronico's and Molly Stone's. Three others -- Whole Foods, Country Sun and Piazza's -- have already voluntarily scrapped plastic bags.

The council directed staff to prepare a proposal for charging fees for paper bags by Sept. 18. The council also asked staff to consider a ban on plastic bags at all local stores and to come up with a way to measure the effects of the policy changes on customer behavior.


Posted by Clear Perspective, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm

[Post removed due to repetitive post by same poster, and for promoting a website]

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm

I think that Palo Alto should be required to open up a paper mill in town if they want an ordinance like this-- preferably upwind from as many city council members as possible.

Posted by C, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Apparently Council member John Barton is the only one who read the US Constitution. Our freedom in this country is slipping away, people, one ordinance at a time. As it has in so many other countries. It always seems like a good idea at the time. History repeats itself. Freedom isn't free. The price includes annoying plastic bags in our landfills. That's a small price to pay. Travel abroad extensively if you doubt my words.

Posted by S, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2009 at 8:36 pm

I shop at Piazza's regularly (1-2 times a week) and the absence of plastic bags is not a big deal, even to us proletarian Mountain View residents. You guys are blowing things way out of proportion. It's not a big deal.

Posted by Gene Segre, a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2009 at 10:58 am

That will be the last straw that breaks our newspapers' backs. I will certainly terminate my subscriptions if I get soggy papers because of this ordinance. Will the council stop the rains?

Posted by Joe Cree, a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 18, 2009 at 2:20 pm

So no platic bags allowed in Palo Alto and here in good ol' Mtn. View we're going to have to pay for shopping bags. Sales taxes are going up along with every other tax in this dumb state while services and our school go to pot. I'm curious what the attraction to living here is anymore? We're over taxed, over regulated and under represented from the city councils right up to the Governor.

Posted by Ex MV resident, a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm

The Palo Alto CC members should be required to don plastic bags over their heads before City Council meetings. They should also secure them in the same way that the PD secures offenders with the " plastic handcuffs. Nice and tight. This would solve many problems.

Posted by MV utopia, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Use an alternative to plastic.
Let us make the Bay Area different from all America.
We can advance and take care of not only ourselves but also our city.
A city that is united and is at peace with all races, religions and a city that will not only survive natural disasters, but also survive a future economic or political collapse.

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