SANTA CRUZ -- In an effort to settle a lawsuit over its pending ban on single-use plastic bags, the Santa Cruz City Council will consider making several changes to the ordinance Tuesday, including automatically increasing the fee retailers must charge customers for paper bags.
The council passed the plastic bag ban in July but a lawyer for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition filed a lawsuit against the plan in Santa Cruz County Superior Court. The coalition, which represents bag manufacturers, also has sued other municipalities.
In the past few months, the Santa Cruz City Attorney's Office has been in settlement talks with the coalition, said Bob Nelson, superintendent of resource recovery. Nelson said he believes changes Santa Cruz has agreed to -- pending approval of the council -- don't substantially change the ordinance, which now more closely resembles language contained in similar bans put in place by Capitola, Watsonville and the county.
"The most significant thing was automatic escalation of the fee," Nelson said. "Hopefully people will be moving to reusable bags."
Steven Joseph, a San Francisco lawyer representing the bag coalition, couldn't be reached immediately for comment Friday.
In July, the council agreed retailers should charge 10 cents per paper bag after the ordinance takes effect April 10, with the possibility of increasing the fee to 25 cents after council reviews impacts of the fee after a year. The fee is designed to help offset the increased cost to retailers of switching from plastic to paper, as well as encouraging consumers to switch to reusable bags now commonly sold in grocery stores.
The city's ordinance also will be changed to broaden the definition of restaurants, which are exempt under the rule because their products may be too wet for a paper bag to carry. Food trucks, cafes, bakeries, grocery story delis and convenience store food counters are now exempt.
Nelson said if approved by the council, the amendments to the ordinance won't affect its start date of April. The council gave retailers nine months from the original vote on the ban to use their remaining stock of plastic bags and adjust to the new rules.
The bag coalition rejects arguments from environmental groups that plastic bags are littering beaches and parks while also clogging waterways. The group says paper bag production -- whether harvesting trees or recycling other paper -- is actually more harmful to the environment than making petroleum-based plastic bags.
The city also voted in July to ban the sale of polystyrene packaging and toys, a rule that has not been challenged. A ban on using the material to package food was already in effect.
Also Tuesday, the council will consider extending a desalination consultant's contract for another year but reducing it by $54,000 and limiting the company's work largely to the pending environmental analysis of the $125 million water supply project. The council voted in December to eliminate Kennedy/Jenks Consultants' work on delivery and financing options for the facility, but asked a project task force to make further recommendations.
The task force suggested a contract of $336,000 and to limit the company's public outreach efforts. The task force also appointed members to monitor the material produced by the company to ensure it was absent any advocacy, a key criticism of opponents.
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IF YOU GO
SANTA CRUZ CITY COUNCIL
WHEN: 3 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: 809 Center St., Santa Cruz