At Last, a Bag Ban in Santa Monica

Samohi's Team Marine led fight to ban bags.

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday night that bans single use plastic and paper bags, but allows retailers to sell “green” paper bags for at least a dime.  Due to the passage of Proposition 26 with its chilling impact on government’s ability to create and raise fees, Santa Monica abandoned  its original ordinance, which would have put the paper-bag fee at a quarter with some of the revenue coming back to the city. Instead, leaders opted to model their bill after  L.A. County’s recently approved ban.

Fifty people came out to support the bag ban ordinance, about 25 students with Santa Monica High School Team Marine teacher Ben Kay and 25 attendees from environmental groups and the general public.  As you might have expected, the students stole the show.  Dressed in costumes ranging from bag man to straw student to lid lady to bottle boy, the students came out during finals week to advocate for the bag ban.  In a proud moment for me, my son Zack, an ocean swimmer and three year co-president of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club, testified in support of the ordinance.  Zack reminded council members that he started testifying to them as a freshman.  Now he’s a graduating senior.

Santa Monica is the undisputed greenest city in California (OK, Berkeley will dispute that). How did it take its leaders nearly four years to ban single use bags? If you guessed ongoing litigation threats from the Coalition to Save the Plastic Bag, then you’ve been paying attention.

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A Real Bag Giveaway

Why does Santa Monica keep punting on its bag ban?

By many measures, Santa Monica is one of the greenest cities in America.  It has a strong sustainable city program that includes ambitious environmental, economic and quality of life goals and objectives.  It has tough and effective water quality and water supply programs.  Its alternative fuels fleet policy has generally been excellent.  And city leaders have developed and approved a very tough ordinance that banned single use polystyrene packaging.  And for the last three years, they have talked about banning plastic bags.  And talked.  And talked.

The issue hits home for me in a number of ways.  Banning plastic bags in California is one of Heal the Bay’s highest priorities.  Also, as the three-year co-president of the Heal the Bay-Surfrider Club at Santa Monica High School, my son Zack has worked with teacher Ben Kay and his fellow students to ban plastic bags in the city since his freshman year.  Zack is a senior now.  While the city of Santa Monica has studied the issue to death, residents and visitors have disposed of at least 200 million plastic bags, and far too many of them have ended up in Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific beyond.

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Getting the LID Out

The Santa Monica City Council passed a Low Impact Development ordinance on first reading Tuesday night. The measure requires all new development and redevelopment projects to infiltrate or capture and reuse 100% of the runoff generated from a three-quarter-inch storm unless LID measures are infeasible on site. The policy is based on the Ventura County stormwater permit and an earlier draft of the long-stalled LID ordinance by the city of Los Angeles.

The most progressive section of the ordinance focuses on green streets, requiring full LID compliance for all projects that cost more than $1 million. Councilman Kevin McKeown tried to get the LID ordinance to apply to all city projects. But his bold proposal gave way to a more modest but critical green streets approach. Leadership from Mayor Bobby Shriver and Councilman Terry O’Day helped carry the day.

Santa Monica leaders deserve accolades for practicing what they preach and requiring developers to embrace LID technology. The city has long been a leader in California on stormwater pollution prevention and LID requirements. Its groundbreaking 1992 ordinance included significant LID components, long before the coining of the term.

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