The City Council could approve a ban on disposable plastic shopping bags in October -- earlier than anyone expected -- thanks to an agreement with San Mateo County.
The ban could go into effect on July 1, 2013 under a "work plan" approved by the council Tuesday evening. San Mateo County has offered to include Mountain View and other Santa Clara County cities in its environmental impact report (EIR) on its proposed plastic bag ban. Mountain View's inclusion will save at least $40,000, city staff say, and lower the cost of the ordinance to $10,000.
The EIR would allow Mountain View to ban access to disposable plastic bags at grocery stores and require a minimum charge of 10 cents per re-usable or paper bag for the first 18 months and a charge of at least 25 cents thereafter. Restaurants and charitable operations such as Goodwill are not included in the ban.
The council voted 5-1 at its April 10 meeting to allow city staff to work on the ordinance, with Vice Mayor John Inks opposed and council member Tom Means absent.
"As an exclusive canvas bag shopper, I think this is a lot of work and a lot of time for a tiny part of the waste stream," Inks said. He added that the money should go towards lowering the recycling bills of residents.
A handful of residents spoke against the ban, including Jim Neal, who began coming to council meetings to oppose the city's new ban on smoking near publicly accessible buildings.
"I feel like this is a tax on the poor and an attack on the poor," Neal said. "You are going to charge them for paper bags? To me that's unconscionable. Have you ever tried to carry a paper bag in the rain?"
Council member Ronit Bryant responded to Neal's concerns, and recalled the first time the council considered a ban along with Santa Clara County.
"7-Eleven sent us hundreds of emails about how people's quality of life would deteriorate if they didn't have a plastic bag," Bryant said. But after cities such as Palo Alto and San Jose began implementing their own plastic bag bans, "we got letters from grocer's associations encouraging us to move forward with a ban, but they said all cities should have similar requirements."
"Poor people lived without plastic bags for millenia," Bryant added. "It can be done. We pay the costs of having to clean up our creeks and clean up our Bay. It's a cost we all cover."
The draft EIR for the plastic bag ban is expected to be available for public comment in June.
The council's vote on Tuesday also allowed city staff to begin work regulations for polystyrene take out food containers, commonly known as Styrofoam. That ordinance could take effect July 1, 2014 and is expected to cost $3,000. So far Palo Alto is the only city in the county to have restricted the use of such containers.