San Diego church and community leaders beg city not to ban plastic bags

Leaders say charging for paper bags is too much

SAN DIEGO - Church and community leaders on Wednesday asked the city of San Diego to "bag the ban" on plastic bags.

The proposed ordinance, which could go into effect next year, looks to clean up the environment. Eliminating the bags is a major priority for environmentalists, who contend they scatter across beaches and get into the ocean, where they harm marine life. Also, 95 percent end up in landfills, taking up valuable space.

The ordinance, backed by city Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, would ban plastic bags in most stores, mandate a 10 cent-per-bag charge for customers who want a paper bag and require shopkeepers to maintain records for three years.

The proposal would force San Diegans to start paying for grocery bags for the first time, said Bishop George McKinney, a pastor at St. Stephen's Cathedral and a longtime community activist.

"In essence, this is a tax -- a multimillion-dollar tax on San Diegans," McKinney told reporters. "And with the cost of living on the rise, I can tell you the last thing we need today from government is something that will make life even more difficult for people, especially working families. Government should be finding ways to help people -- not hurt them."

McKinney was among a group of black pastors who spoke out against the proposal, along with former state Sen. Wadie Deddeh and Mark Arabo, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association, which represents small markets and convenience stores.

They say the 10-cent charge is too much for San Diego's poorest communities.

"That's a lot of money for people living paycheck to paycheck," said Arabo. "Most of our customers don't even have cars."

Arabo argued the city can still ban plastic bags as long as it does not force customers to pay for paper bags.

"Let San Diegans choose," he said. "Don't let the city of San Diego play big brother."

San Diego resident Georgina Blake questioned, "Can you imagine having to pay for your bags plus your groceries? No, that's not fair."

"It's asinine," said Arabo. "If you're going to ban it, do not force stores to charge 10 cents per bag."

Lightner's office released the following statement to 10News:

“Now is the time for San Diego to take a leadership role on limiting single-use plastic bags and reducing the pollution associated with them. As we can see from best practices from other cities, the benefits are real and can be done in a way that won’t burden our local businesses or our most vulnerable residents.”

The proposal unanimously passed the City Council's Rules and Economic Development Committee in October. The next step is for city staff to draft language and conduct an economic review. The process is expected to take from nine months to a full year before the issue returns to the City Council for possible adoption.

Lightner, who is guiding the development of the ordinance, said at the October meeting that "simply hoping" more people will return plastic bags to retailers for recycling is no longer good enough.

"Our canyons, waterways, storm drain systems, streets and landfills deserve better," Lightner said.

While he voted to allow staff to write the law, Councilman Mark Kersey said he was troubled that huge hardware stores would be exempted while smaller establishments get stuck with the regulatory burden.

A study by the Encinitas-based Equinox Center found that 500 million of the bags are used in San Diego annually, and 350 million fewer would be used if the proposed ordinance was adopted.

The executive director of the center, Lani Lutar, supports a bag ban.

The Equinox Center report found that neither retailers nor consumers suffered significant economic damage in the jurisdictions around the state where bans are in effect. Shoppers in those areas had to shell out an initial $7.70 to purchase reusable bags, but the costs diminished over time since they last so long.

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