After an eight-month delay, apparently waiting for the city of Monterey to take the lead, county officials are again poised to consider a ban on the use of plastic bags in stores.
The Board of Supervisors could vote on the ban by summer.
The county staff is planning to ramp up work on the proposed ordinance after a lengthy delay apparently caused by county officials' reluctance to take the lead on adopting such a ban, Gabriela Carbajal of the county Environmental Health Bureau said in a memo.
The memo was to the supervisors' Alternative Energy and Environment Committee, about an ordinance that would prohibit use of plastic bags in stores and other retail establishments in unincorporated areas of the county and charge a 25-cent fee for the paper bags. The ordinance would exempt restaurants from the ban and the fee.
Carbajal issued a memo to the committee for Thursday's meeting outlining the recent history of the proposed ban.
In late May 2012, the committee decided to allow release of the draft ordinance and the initial study, and to conduct public meetings on the issue. But at the time, Carbajal said, the ordinance had not yet been reviewed by the County Counsel's Office, and it ended up staying there for eight months.
The County Counsel's Office is expected to complete its review by the end of this month, Carbajal said.
Supervisor Jane Parker, vice-chairwoman of the committee, said she believed County Counsel Charles McKee's office had taken a cautious approach given potential litigation from groups opposed to the proposed ban, such as the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.
Parker suggested Monterey's decision to adopt its own ban likely gave the county cover. Carmel and Big Sur also have banned plastic bags, as have Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties.
Parker said she had been weary of the delay and was pleased the ban would be moving forward.
"It appears to be on a timeline now, so that's good, instead of just hanging out there," Parker said. "I really appreciate the city of Monterey going first."
McKee said the delay occurred because environmental review had not been finished and the ban was not yet a complete proposal.
Parker said she still agrees with the draft ordinance's provision for charging 25 cents per paper bag despite the Monterey City Council's recent decision to consider reducing its fee to 10 cents per bag. She said Santa Cruz County's ordinance includes a 25-cent paper bag fee.
However, she said she is not quite ready to support including restaurants in the ban, which Santa Cruz County does, saying restaurants may still be adjusting to the ban on Styrofoam containers. Santa Cruz County is facing litigation over its ban.
Supervisor Simon Salinas, chairman of the committee, expressed concern about the potential for business owners in unincorporated areas of the county — particularly Castroville, Prunedale and Chualar — to be placed at a disadvantage in competing against businesses in Salinas, where there is no ban. Salinas said he hoped all cities in the county would be encouraged to enact plastic bag prohibitions to level the playing field.
Ricardo Encarnacion, assistant director for the county Environmental Health Bureau, said there has been no assessment of how many businesses would be affected by the county ban, though that will be done in the initial study.
Salinas said a new state Assembly bill has been proposed that would extend a ban against plastic bags statewide, and would likely take precedence.
Carbajal said the plan now calls for finishing the draft ordinance and initial environmental study by next month. A public comment period, including at least three community stakeholder meetings, would be held in March and April, and final draft would be submitted to the committee by the end of April. The committee would be charged with making a recommendation to the full board, which would consider the ban in June.
Several environmental and coastal protection organizations — including Communities for Sustainable Monterey County, Save Our Shores and the Surfrider Foundation — have called for the ban, arguing plastic bags kill marine life while littering local beaches and the ocean.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 753-6753 or email@example.com.