In a narrow vote that reflects the ongoing tension between environmental concerns and government regulation, San Luis Obispo County’s waste management board Wednesday declined to kill a proposed ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags.
The 7-5 vote of the Integrated Waste Management Board, with one member absent, does not put the ordinance in place. Rather, it allows a final decision Jan. 11. The board consists of the five county supervisors, a representative from each of the county’s seven cities, and a board member who represents the county’s special districts.
The ordinance, should it go into place next year as proposed, would prohibit the bags at most supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and big-box stores. It would allow retailers to charge 10 cents per paper bag.The hope, however, is that customers will substitute cloth bags when they go shopping. An education campaign to encourage a change in behavior has begun.
The ordinance as worded would have the law in place by Oct. 1, 2012, throughout the county, including in all seven cities.
However, given the narrow margin of approval, the final vote is by no means certain. And even if the waste board does sign off, the ban could face a referendum, several speakers suggested Wednesday.
“Let the people decide,” said speaker Jerry Clay, who is a member of the Atascadero City Council but spoke as an individual.
Clay was one of nearly three dozen people who took sides during the public hearing. They were split more or less evenly, with several speakers on both sides saying they spoke for hundreds of others who could not be present.
Those opposed said the ordinance would be costly and inconvenient, among other objections. But their chief concern was what they described as an intrusion on personal freedom.
One said she was “sick of the nanny state.” Another called the law “a classic case of excess regulation.”
Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business asked the board whether it wants “a free society with individual choice” or one in which government dictates behavior to its citizens.
“If this is so great, people would do it voluntarily,” Brown said.
Proponents were equally passionate. They showed slides of wildlife damaged by discarded plastic bags, and presented studies that said billions of bags are discarded at immeasurable harm to the environment.
Some, citing the fight for seat belts and restrictions on smoking, said progress in public health and protecting the environment usually meet opposition.
“I’ll side with the idealism and the optimism and the sense of looking out for the future,” Supervisor Adam Hill said, and “against the fear and the cynicism.”
Others defended government regulation, linking problems with the United States economy to a lack of regulation.
“We as a country are among the least regulated,” Richard Kransdorf said. “Regulation is the price of civilization.”