Groups pressure Faulconer on plastic bag ban

SAN DIEGO - The heads of three environmental groups urged San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Tuesday to move forward a review of an ordinance that would sharply curtail the use of plastic shopping bags.

The review is a necessary step before the ordinance, a top priority for environmentalists, can be brought before the City Council for consideration.

Megan Baehrens, the executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper, said thousands of plastic bags were removed every year by volunteers during cleanup events.

"These are just the bags that we see -- they have not yet made it into the water," Baehrens said. "When bags float in or on the water, they pose a danger to fresh water fish and sea life."

She said a study showed chemicals are transferred to fish that ingest plastic bags, and those fish are then consumed by humans who catch them from piers or sportfishing charters.

Brian Pepin, Faulconer's representative at council meetings, said the mayor decided it would be more efficient to wait until the state legislative session ends before starting an environmental review.

The Legislature is considering a statewide ban on plastic bags, though previous attempts have failed.

Roger Kube, chairman of the local Surfrider chapter, said it had been nine months since a City Council committee asked the mayor's office to conduct an environmental review.

"I don't remember any caveat that we're going to wait for the state, and we feel we should not wait for the state," Kube said. "Regardless of what the state is doing, it's time for San Diego to act, and the time is now."

Debbie Hecht of the Sierra Club also spoke.

The three made their remarks during a public comment session.

Craig Gustafson, a mayoral spokesman, said Monday that if the current legislation also doesn't become law, the mayor would continue with the environmental review process for the local bill.

"The state is expected to take action on its proposed ban in September so it would be an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars to proceed with a review for a local ban before then," Gustafson said.

According to various news reports, this year's state proposal would offer financial incentives to the three plastic bag manufacturers located in California to convert to producing reusable bags, which would lower opposition to the bill.

"While we're hopeful that it will pass this time, we certainly don't want to continue to rely on the state," said Kube.

San Diego is the largest city in the state of California without a bag ban ordinance. More than 100 other cities have already taken the leap by banning the bag for environmental reasons.

However, the council cannot act until the mayor does.

"We're just tired of the wait-and-see approach," said Kube.

San Diego's proposed ordinance would ban plastic bags at most stores, mandate a 10-cent-per-bag charge for paper bags and require shopkeepers to maintain records for three years.

"It doesn't make sense because this was all intended to be about protecting marine life and getting rid of plastic bags," said American Forest & Paper Association spokesman Hector Barajas.

Plastic bags could still be used for meat, produce and prescription medications.

The restrictions would not apply to charities, large non-food retailers like Home Depot or government food providers.

A report done last year by the Encinitas-based Equinox Center concluded the ordinance would reduce the number of bags used in San Diego by 70 percent. The study found that about 500 million of the bags are used in San Diego annually, and 350 million fewer would be used if the proposed ordinance were adopted.

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