Santa Barbara is considering a straw ban — and no, you won’t be jailed for violating it

This July 17, 2018 photo shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco.
This July 17, 2018 photo shows wrapped plastic straws at a bubble tea cafe in San Francisco. AP

Recent reports that Santa Barbara would jail people who violate the city’s proposed straw ban are untrue, officials said.

“No. Jail and fines are not contemplated right now,” Bryan Latchford, the public outreach coordinator for the city’s Environmental Services Division, told The Tribune. “It is not how we enforce generally; our emphasis for our office is specifically education for compliance. It’s proven to be more successful.”

Reports that the city authorized fines and jail time turned up in publications like Fox News, People Magazine and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom and was tweeted about by right-wing figures including Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump Jr.

The section of the proposed ordinance detailing penalties and enforcement says a written warning notice will be issued for the first violation, and “thereafter, any person violating or failing to comply with any of the requirements of this chapter shall be subject to remedies specified pursuant to Chapters 1.25 and 1.28 of this code.”

Under chapter 1.28 in the city’s municipal code, it says that unless otherwise specified, a misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, imprisonment for no more than six months, or both. Other parts of the chapters talk about how fines will be given out and paid.

The straw ban ordinance also says that “the city attorney may seek legal, injunctive, or other equitable relief to enforce this chapter.”

“It’s just written so broadly that a code enforcement officer or a police officer or the city attorney has a way to address violations of local laws,” Latchford said.

But that doesn’t mean it’s how the city will enforce the straw ban — which has not yet been approved.

On July 17, the city council voted 6-1 to ban plastic straws and voted unanimously to ban polystyrene — also known as Styrofoam — products, Noozhawk reported. The straw ban item appeared on the city’s consent calendar on July 24, but was sent back to the ordinance committee “for further revision.”

Latchford pointed out that, since Santa Barbara’s plastic bag ordinance went into effect in 2014, “we haven’t had a single fine.”

“The city has and shall continue to employ the philosophy of voluntary compliance,” Latchford said. “Most of these businesses want to do the right thing for themselves, the environment and their customers, and this is the situation we’re in.”

Latchford pointed out that many Santa Barbara bars are already using paper straws and they’ve seen a number of businesses switching to environmentally friendly options. He added that, in light of the polystyrene ban, the city conducted a survey of restaurants and found that about 30 to 35 percent were using Styrofoam.

“Any violations we present, we’re happy to work with them along the way,” he said. “We’re not focused on implementing any fines.”

The city has an information page on their website that answers questions about what the ban would do, who it would affect, and what exemptions there would be — including an exemption that allows restaurants to provide plastic straws to people with disabilities.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune