Lawsuit filed over plastic bag ban in San Luis Obispo County

A lawsuit has been filed against the county’s waste management board, asking the court to set aside the board’s Jan. 11 adoption of an ordinance that would ban plastic shopping bags at most stores in San Luis Obispo County.

The suit was filed Thursday by attorney Stephen L. Joseph on behalf of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. It will be heard March 22 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Joseph argues that the Integrated Waste Management Authority, which enacted the ordinance on an 8-5 vote, did not complete an environmental impact report, as the coalition says is required.

He goes on to challenge the affirmative vote of IWMA member Greg O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan sits on the Templeton Community Services District board of directors, which voted 3-2 to oppose the ordinance.

However, O’Sullivan also represents the other nine community services districts spread throughout the county. He has said his vote represented the districts collectively rather than just his own.

If he had voted the other way, the ordinance would not have passed because it needed eight out of the 13 votes.

Ray Biering, attorney for the IWMA, could not be reached for comment.

The IWMA consists of all five county supervisors, a representative from each of the county’s seven incorporated cities, and the director representing community services districts.

Joseph describes the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition as a nonprofit environmental organization that was formed in 2008.

The ordinance, set to take effect in October, allows retailers to distribute paper bags, but only if they charge customers 10 cents apiece.

Environmentalists have been aggressively persuading local governments to adopt similar ordinances and have succeeded in dozens of cities and towns across the United States.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban the free distribution of plastic bags. Other cities and counties across the country have followed, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Jose, Los Angeles County, and Washington, D.C. Smaller cities such as Santa Monica, Long Beach, Carpinteria and Fairfax have enacted some form of ban or limitation on the use of plastic bags.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition also has filed lawsuits against Marin and Santa Cruz counties, as well as the cities of Manhattan Beach and Long Beach.

Environmental groups have accused the coalition and Joseph of being fronts for the plastics industry, which Joseph has denied.