UNION CITY — For two weeks Union City stood alone atop a green pedestal as the plastic-foam-busting king of the Tri-City area. On June 24, its council voted to prohibit restaurants from using plastic-foam takeout containers, becoming only the 15th city in the state to do so.
But before a new law becomes official, the council must pass it twice. And the second vote, which usually is just a formality, was anything but that Tuesday night.
Councilman Manny Fernandez switched sides, deciding to oppose the ban. With Councilman Richard Valle recusing himself, the council mustered only two yes votes — one shy of the three needed to approve the ban.
It was the second time in less than two months that a Tri-City area city has rejected prohibiting restaurants from using plastic-foam containers. In May, Fremont's council voted 4-1 against a ban after receiving a staff report that was neutral on the matter.
Union City staff members recommended the ban but failed to sway Fernandez and Councilwoman Carol Dutra-Vernaci. Both said that the ban singled out restaurants and that the city would be better off improving its recycling service than banning any one material.
"To me, working with the business community to recycle would probably be more productive than isolating this small item," Fernandez said.
The Chamber of Commerce along with restaurant and plastic-foam trade groups opposed the ban.
Mayor Mark Green, who supported the ban, said Alameda County already is discussing similar measures.
"I'm just letting everybody know this is the way things are going, like it or not," Green said.
With the plastic-foam ban dead for now, Union City is moving ahead with a pilot program to collect recyclables, including food waste, at some restaurants, condominiums and apartment complexes, said Councilman Richard Valle, who is also head of Tri-CED Community Recycling, Union City's recycler.
Valle was not legally required to recuse himself from the vote but said his board of directors decided "it was best for Tri-CED not to get involved with the issue."
Alameda County has set a goal of diverting 75 percent of all waste by 2010. Union City's diversion rate is 64 percent, Green said.
Business interests argued that switching to compostable cups and food containers wouldn't significantly reduce landfill waste because neither Union City nor Fremont collects recyclables from condominiums, apartments or most restaurants.
Plastic-foam takeout containers don't biodegrade. Recycling them is difficult because most are contaminated with food and other particles, Valle noted.
Fremont Councilman Bob Wieckowski, who backed the ban in Fremont, said he would revisit the issue after the election.
"This fight is not over yet," he said.