South Lake Tahoe bag ban for retail shops in effect |

South Lake Tahoe bag ban for retail shops in effect

Sebastian Foltz
Noah Incopero, 16, of South Lake Tahoe bags groceries into a reusable shopping bag at Raley's grocery store at the"Y." While grocery stores in South Lake Tahoe have been subject to the plastic bag ban for close to two years, as of Oct. 15 the ban also applies to retail stores. The city, however, is currently only encouraging the policy — not strictly enforcing it. City officials are open to public comment.
Sebastian Foltz / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

The plastic bag ban ordinance in the City of South Lake Tahoe is nothing new to grocery stores, but a second portion of the legislation quietly went into effect Thursday, Oct. 15. In addition to grocery stores the single-use ban now applies to all retail stores. But, according to city officials, the new policy is currently more of a guideline than a set regulation.

“We’re not looking for immediate enforcement. We simply want compliance,” city attorney Tom Watson said. “This has been an ongoing discussion for years.”

An initial draft of the ordinance was presented to city council in November 2012. After revision it was it was adopted in October of 2013. The policy took effect for grocery stores and food vendors as of Jan. 15, 2014, but portions of the code applying to retail stores was differed. Retailers were initially expected to comply in October of 2014, but council pushed the policy to October of this year.

City councilman Tom Davis said the deferment was in part related to the California statewide ban being delayed and also out of concern for smaller Tahoe-area businesses.

“The council’s intent was to affect the grocery stores,” city manager Nancy Kerry said of the original purpose of the regulation.”(They) had a very soft approach to anybody other than the grocery stores.”

Echoing Watson’s interpretation, Kerry added that the city was “not directed to enforce this section of the code, but rather take feedback.”

She is currently accepting input from local businesses regarding the policy and potential future amendments to the ordinance.

“They (city council) don’t want to hurt small businesses. That was a strong opinion of the council at the time they were discussing this,” Kerry said.

Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce president B Gorman told the Tribune that the policy had received a 70-percent approval rating among the chamber ‘s membership, and it was in line with the basin-wide environmental “Take Care” campaign promoting green policies and zero-waste programs.

Under the current ordinance, violations can result in an administrative citation and a request for 14-days to comply. Failure to comply could result in fines, but the city’s website states the amount of the fine has yet to be set but could be determined in a future resolution by city council.

While California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation prompting a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, implementation of the law has since been suspended pending a voter referendum set for California’s November 2016 ballot.

A number of cities and municipalities across the nation already have grocery bag ban ordinances in place, similar to the Tahoe area.

As to the suggested ban for retailers, Watson said, “Tahoe has a more expansive ordinance than the state law. As an environmental leader in the state, we hope that (businesses) will comply.”

Compliance within South Lake Tahoe city limits will remain voluntary for retailers until further notice. As of press time, some larger local businesses had already complied, including Staples, BevMo and T.J.Maxx. A manager at Staples said they switched to partially recycled paper bags as of Thursday, Oct. 15. Kmart was still using plastic bags as of Thursday, but a manager said they would switch to reusable and recycled paper bags when they finished with their current stock of single-use plastic bags.

The ordinance bans plastic single-use carry-out bags and paper bags that fall below 40-percent recycled content. Whether or not to charge a fee for bags is at the discretion of retail and grocery stores.

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