On Tuesday night, on an overwhelming 6-1 vote, the city council of Huntington Beach, California–which is officially known as “Surf City, USA“–directed the city staff to begin the process of repealing a policy that bans the use of plastic grocery bags, and requires grocery stores to charge a ten-cent fee on paper bags.
This coastal city in Orange County, which boasts 9.5 miles of beautiful beaches, is about to make history, as never before has a city with such a bag ban ever repealed it.
The city’s bag ban was an issue in last year’s council elections, and all four council members who won election were public in their support for repealing it, defeating two incumbents who had voted in favor.
Breitbart News spoke with Councilman Mike Posey, who placed the repeal onto the council agenda, and made the motion for its passage. He was crystal clear on his motive. “The intention of the bag ban was to reduce litter and improve the environment. We have no verifiable proof that our local bag ban has done anything to reduce locally sourced and discarded single-use plastic bags. Littering of any kind is unacceptable, but we already have laws in place to address littering.”
Posey added, “”I believe in protecting the environment, and I treasure the beach, ocean, air and environment. I drive a clean diesel-powered car and telecommute a few days per week. I am not necessarily an environmentalist but am steadfastly environmentally conscious. I also value freedom. However, litter from plastic bags is caused by misuse and not use, and I object to punishing everyone because some people choose to litter.”
Other Councilmembers supporting the vote to begin the bag ban repeal process were Dave Sullivan, Barbara Delgleize, Erik Petersen, Billy O’Connell and Dave Katapodis (the latter of whom actually voted for the original ban, but who has apparently changed his mind). Mayor Jill Hardy cast the lone dissenting vote.
Former mayor Matthew Harper, who had been on the losing end of the ban vote in 2012, but who was just elected to the California State Assembly this last November, lauded the actions of the city council.
“The vote to begin the process of repealing the ill-advised ban is a step forward for the local community,” he said. “Whether you look at this as a consumer choice issue, or from the perspective that the ban seeks to correct an alleged problem that is not prevalent on our beaches, I applaud the council’s overwhelming vote.”
The city’s plastic bag ban/paper bag fee ordinance was adopted in 2012 amidst much controversy, with the Surfrider Foundation, major proponents of the ban, committing to cover the city’s $20,000 cost of conducting a necessary environmental impact report.
While the city moved forward at the time, ultimately adopting the ban, it is worth noting that the Surfriders never did make good on their pledge.
Last year, in the final hours of the California legislature’s session, legislators put SB 270 onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, and he signed the statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, which required grocers to charge at least ten cents for every paper bag used.
However, right after Brown signed the bill, the American Progressive Plastic Bag Alliance, an industry group, announced that it would seek to gather the signatures necessary to trigger a statewide referendum on the bill. A few months later they turned in over 800,000 signatures of registered voters, well above the required 504,760 number.
The effect of qualifying the referendum is that SB 270 does not go into effect, and instead the question of whether to ban plastic grocery bags and mandate a fee on paper bags will appear on the 2016 general election ballot.
For years more extreme environmental activist groups had been trying, without success, to pass a statewide ban on plastic bags. Year after year, the effort was beaten back by a coalition made up of bag manufacturers, grocers, liberty-oriented groups, and groups concerned that a bag ban is regressive and adversely impacts the poor.
The lynchpin for the ban finally passing was the placing of the mandatory ten-cent fee on paper bags into the bill, with the profits from that fee (double the actual cost of the paper bags) going straight to the profit margin of grocery stores. That amounts to hundreds of million of dollars of years to grocers, and thus it is not surprising, if alarming, that with this economic incentive the California Grocers Association abandoned its traditional opposition to the ban, instead reversing its position to support it.
There is no doubt that Surf City’s repeal of its local ordinance will be featured in the statewide campaign against the bag ban on next year’s ballot.
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R), who along with Harper lives in and represents Huntington Beach and who testified to the Council in support of repealing the ban, told Breitbart News, “Huntington Beach reversing their ban is proof that a one-size-fits-all statewide ban on plastic bags is a terrible idea.”
The projected timeline for the final repeal of Huntington Beach’s ban, after the results of an environmental impact report, and the requisite multiple votes on the repeal, is late May.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.