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Encinitas moves forward with plastic bag ban

A split Encinitas City Council moved forward with a single-use plastic bag ban on June 25, rejecting a report stating the city would need to complete a costly environmental document to proceed.

As a result of a 3-2 vote, the council will give a final thumbs up or down to a bag ban later this summer.

“We are a coastal city that has an obligation to protect our environment,” Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz said.

The report from Rincon Consultants analyzed what would happen if a bag ban took effect in Encinitas.

It found to fill the void left by plastic, manufacturing additional reusable bags and cleaning them after use would generate a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

Consequently, to address the greenhouse gases, a $30,000 environmental impact report (EIR) is required, according to the Rincon report.

But the council majority said the report’s faulty methodology overestimated the impacts, and thus an EIR isn’t necessary.

Namely, they took issue with the finding that added reusable bags would demand an extra 12 loads of laundry a year per family.

The report notes: “Assuming that all reusable bags are made of cotton and that all of them are machine washed in separate loads for just reusable bags, this would create an additional 251,637 loads of laundry per year.”

“If that isn’t the craziest assumption I’ve ever read, I don’t know what is,” Kranz said.

Matthew Maddox, program manager with Rincon Consultants, said the company arrived at a dozen loads per family with unofficial surveys.

He added the number is likely lower, but the report took into account that people could wash their bags more often in the future in response to health scares over bacteria accumulation.

Maddox went on to say the report is based on conservative assumptions and “worst-case scenarios.” And he noted that Encinitas has a low threshold for greenhouse gas emissions, triggering an EIR.

Resident Jim Wang criticized the methodology, saying it’s like analyzing all vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions by “assuming every car is a Hummer.”

Mayor Kristin Gaspar, who voted against the motion, said those proposing new developments in the city have to complete an EIR if they go over the greenhouse gas limit. Hence, it’s unfair for the city to ignore its own rules, she said.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer disagreed. She said those rules apply to construction, while state law allows cities to waive EIRs when adopting environmentally-friendly legislation like a bag ban.

Recently, courts have found cities don’t have to complete an EIR to adopt a bag ban. In light of this, Shaffer said she felt comfortable taking the next step.

But Councilman Mark Muir said the city should wait to see if the statewide plastic bag ban passes first. That way, Encinitas would avoid expending any unnecessary resources.

“I hope the state does it, but if it doesn’t, we need to jump on it,” Muir said.

California’s bag legislation forbids cities from approving local bans after Sept. 1. Therefore, the council aims to vote on its ordinance before then.

Compared to California’s proposed ban, Encinitas’ ordinance would cover more businesses. One public speaker said a local ban would create a level playing field.

Encinitas’ ordinance would ban plastic bags at grocery stores, retail establishments, pharmacies and farmers markets, charging customers 10 cents per paper bag (the fee stays with the store.) Restaurants would be exempt, along with produce bags.

Additionally, it would allow affected stores to offer a 5 cent per reusable-bag rebate.

Councilwoman Teresa Barth noted discussion of the local ban first came up in 2008.

“It’s long past due we move forward with this,” Barth said.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Jim Wang’s name. The Encinitas Advocate regrets the error.


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