City ordinance banning plastic bags resurfaces

Eric Heinz

South Lake Tahoe City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of amendments to an ordinance that would ban plastic bags at retail and grocery stores and implement a discretionary charge on the use of paper bags.

Mayor Tom Davis and Councilor JoAnn Conner were the dissenting votes.

Current provisions have yet to outline an enforcement clause of the ordinance, but the council looked at reducing anything that could put businesses in compromising positions under the “administrative citation process” for incompliance.

The ordinance is to go through a second reading at the Oct. 15 meeting.

If passed, the ordinance would go into effect Jan. 15.

Nonprofit organizations that sell donated items are exempt from the ordinance.

Justification for implementing of the ordinance, a staff report said, comes from the California Environmental Quality Act categorical exemptions Class 7 in which local ordinances can be put into place if they have environmentally protective measures and Class 8 for environmental maintenance.

Initially, the ordinance was to have a mandatory bookkeeping clause within it to require businesses to keep track of each paper bag they use for sale.

Instead, the council approved striking it from the ordinance prior to the second reading. Part of the clause also included striking a charge to customers for that paper bag use.

Conner said the bookkeeping costs and time would put a burden on the businesses, and the punitive measures also would hurt businesses that are trying to succeed in South Lake Tahoe.

Conner suggested reducing the use of plastic bags by going to schools, community events and more public areas to educate people about using bags that can be used multiple times.

That way, the law would not have to be implemented and businesses would not have to worry about citations.

“The real answer here is to do community outreach and communication,” Conner said.

Davis said he didn’t think implementing the ordinance would send visitors and locals to buy groceries in other towns, but if there are cheaper products in areas that do not ban plastic bags or have requirements on paper, it may behoove them to make day trips in order to cash in on less expensive commodities.

“You have to show me there’s a problem,” Davis said, adding he doesn’t see the ordinance as addressing an imminent city problem.

People in favor of the ordinance who spoke at the public comment period mentioned environmental factors, such as the poor biodegradability of the bags and culmination of bags by the lake’s shoreline and river areas.

Those who spoke against the ordinance decried this ordinance was a tax on businesses, a deterrent to customers and possibly a health and safety problem, as it would require people to bring their own handbags.

Since February 2012, similar ordinances have been introduced and tailored in the city’s committees and brought to council. No such ban or regulation on plastic bags is on the city’s books at this time.

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