Plastic bag ban leads to secession talk

Anger still lingers among some residents north of the Cuesta Grade about the county waste board’s recent vote to ban plastic bags, but earlier threats that some cities and community service districts might secede from the waste board have simmered down.

“We have a lot of things on our plate right now,” Atascadero City Councilman Jerry Clay told The Tribune on Thursday. The vote by the Integrated Waste Management Authority board of directors is “not a pressing issue.”

Templeton Community Services Director Jeff Hodge also said nobody from his board has asked him to place leaving the waste authority on the service district’s agenda for a discussion or a vote.

Several speakers from Atascadero, Templeton and other parts of North County, including Clay, raised the issue of secession at the Jan. 11 hearing. Some 85 people spoke, on both sides of the issue.

The ordinance adopted by the board means that beginning in October, shoppers cannot be given plastic bags at most supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and big-box stores. It allows retailers to charge 10 cents per paper bag.

Clay made clear that he and others remain dissatisfied with the authority’s vote. But he wants to look into the implications of a city leaving the authority before he asks two other council members — it takes three to schedule an agenda item — to schedule it for a full discussion.

“Are there costs involved? What does the IWMA do for us?” Clay asked, saying there are other questions. He said “at some point we’ll probably take a look at it.”

The consequences would be problematic for an individual jurisdiction leaving the waste authority, according to Bill Worrell, its executive director.

He said the waste authority — known as a joint powers authority — was formed in 1994 in the wake of state legislation requiring cities and counties to cut down on and divert waste — disposal of batteries, for example, or fluorescent bulbs and other items.

The authority consists of representatives from each of the county’s incorporated cities, the county Board of Supervisors, and one member representing the county’s 10 community services districts.

Should a city or community pull out, that body and the citizens who live there would be on their own to carry out the state requirements. Worrell said it would become “a fractured system,” complicated and “a real shame for the public.”

He said he hopes that before any jurisdiction votes to pull out he is given a chance to explain the consequences to that community’s board of directors and citizens.

Ray Biering, the attorney for the waste authority, said a jurisdiction can leave within 30 days of its governing body taking a vote to depart.