Opinion: City should rethink plastic bag ban repeal
Tribune Guest Column
A 3-2 vote cast last Monday repealed a portion of the 2013 ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags. I don’t intend this to be a discussion on whether plastic bags should be banned or not (although I openly support policies that bring about greater environmental stewardship in our community), but I am questioning whether there was due diligence in acquiring the data needed to accurately represent the desires of the community when making this decision.
In an earlier press release the city stated that it had “absolutely no intention of enforcing the ordinance,” which contradicts council’s belief that ordinances shouldn’t be adopted unless they can be enforced. Staff was later asked to draw up the language for a repeal. It is apparent that the council’s intent in approving the 2013 policy was to create a symbolic gesture of environmental stewardship, one that they never really intended on enforcing despite public support, and one that they later repealed without data to back up their decision.
The 2013 policy was created by polling the public, conducting public meetings, and doing outreach to potentially affected businesses. The chamber even produced data showing that 70 percent of small businesses in our community supported the ban. The repeal of a city policy should at least trigger the same process, one that involves the public and the data collection to support decision making. How exactly is council supposed to represent their constituents when the public is not involved in the process?
This decision effectively devalued the countless hours and efforts of others to collect data and propose a policy that would demonstrate the community’s collective desire to enhance environmental consciousness in an area where the environment is our most precious resource. But more importantly this decision was made without the citizen input that was needed to create the policy in the first place. What prevents other policies to be revisited without citizen oversight? Clearly this goes beyond an issue about bags and raises some ethical questions related to making decisions without public input, established community priorities, and a clear direction for the future. I would hate for this to set precedence by demonstrating that decisions supported by data and community effort can then be repealed without the same level of attention and rigor.
I have been put in positions before where I have to represent my faculty and my students on issues that differed from my personal opinions and we should give kudos to council members David and Sass for adhering to the data and continuing to support the ban despite any reservations they may have had. I regularly instruct my students on the values of science, data collection, and proper representation when faced with difficult decisions. So what kind of message is a repeal of the bag ban really sending?
Given the magnitude of the greater issue, I would like to give the city an opportunity to rethink the repeal or at least collect the data, involve the public, and demonstrate to the community that their decision accurately represents the views of their constituents. Proper involvement and data collection provide for greater transparency and it also allows us to align our priorities and move forward together as a community.
Scott Valentine is the chair of the earth sciences department at Lake Tahoe Community College.