Page 11

< 8 Plastic bags set to pop tion. San Francisco is revising its current ban to become more inclusive, with an eye toward reducing consumption of paper bags. Marin County supervisors last month approved a first reading of a plastic bag ban. A second reading was scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 4. Bag-ban proponents had hoped that the second reading would be a formality. Others however, were concerned that bag manufacturers would continue their blocking maneuvers. That’s what happened. Shortly before the supervisors were supposed to vote, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition threw a pile of legal objections on the county’s desk. Supervisors decided to postpone approving the ban for three weeks “to dive through the piles of paper dumped on us at the last minute,” said Supervisor Charles McGlashan. Supervisor Susan Adams, named board president at the Jan. 4 meeting, reassured supporters that the delaying tactic by Save the Plastic Bag would not ultimately deter the county from enacting a ban. “This board is committed to move forward on this,” said Adams. She and McGlashan have been instrumental in bringing the county this far. It’s been a five-year work in progress. The two supervisors, along with many others pursuing bag bans in California, have followed the tactics of the bag manufacturers and the plastics industry with an eye toward protecting their jurisdictions from legal attacks, similar to the ones the American Chemistry Council mounted against Fairfax, Oakland and San Jose when

each of those jurisdictions moved to ban plastic bags. “I am sorry we have to go through this legal jujitsu,” McGlashan said at the meeting, “but we will get it done.” San Francisco was the first in the state to pass a plastic bag ordinance. Oakland moved next, and was promptly sued. That suit, and the American Chemistry Council’s threat to sue other communities, “stopped us dead in our tracks,” McGlashan told the Sun last week. He and others who had been pushing for a bag ban throughout the county and its cities agreed that at least one point the bag manufactures and the American Chemistry Council raised had merit: Simply banning plastic bags without any proscription against paper bags would encourage consumers to increase their use of paper sacks. And that’s a problem. In many ways paper bags cause more harm to the environment than plastic. They obviously use wood resources, need energy to manufacture and do not degrade easily in landfills. Banning only plastic bags means “you’re leaving out the problem of paper bags,” says McGlashan. At the end of last year, McGlashan says, “A number of us, grocers and city council people, designed an approach to just ban both, paper and plastic.” But by January 2011, it became clear that the move to ban both in one motion was too quick and too strict, “leaving people high and dry at the store with no option except to purchase a reusable bag,” says McGlashan. In March, Green Cities California released a master environmental assessment

< 8 Newsgrams of more than $3 million in a single year. But last week, Judge Verna Adams ordered the Marin Healthcare District to comply with a 2006 “transfer and settlement agreement” that requires such disputes be settled through arbitration.“The plain and clear meaning of the arbitration provision is sufficiently broad so as to encompass plaintiff’s tort claims for breach of fiduciary and charitable trust duties,” wrote Adams in her ruling—essentially saying that Marin General had already agreed to settle lawsuits like this through arbitration when it signed the transfer and settlement agreement four years ago. Sutter Health spokesman Bill Gleeson said he “appreciates” that the court upheld the agreement to arbitrate differences, but lamented the continued “divisiveness” with the healthcare district.“We look forward to putting differences behind us,” said Gleeson. While Marin General Hospital spokesman Pete Hillen says the district would rather have taken the suit to court, he’s confident their case will play out just as strongly before an arbitrator. As part of the suit, Marin General Hospital Corp. alleges that Sutter was able to withdraw the $120 million by building a hospital board that included Sutter employees who would not question the appropriateness of Sutter seizing the funds. Further, MGH alleges that while Sutter was removing millions from the hospital, it was reinvesting the money in healthcare operations that would directly compete with Marin General. “Sutter utterly ignored its fiduciary responsibility to Marin General and instead chose to line its own pockets with the hospital’s reserves,” the board’s lead attorney James Brosnahan said upon filing the suit last August.“It’s improper, immoral and reprehensible conduct by a company that was trusted to manage this vital community resource.”—Jason Walsh

EXTRA! EXTRA! Post your Marin news at ››

10 PACIFIC SUN JANUARY 7, 2011 - JANUARY 13, 2011

as a guideline for communities across the state wanting to enact bag bans. The Green Cities master assessment, says McGlashan, contained information that a fee on paper bags is a “strong economic signal” to decrease their consumption. “We continued with a ban on plastic and a fee on paper.” McGlashan says he worked with local grocers, the California Grocers Association and about eight representatives from city councils to arrive at a consensus on a practical ban on plastic checkout bags and a fee on paper bags, which they did in July. In August, state legislation AB 1998 failed to pass after heavy industry lobbying. It would have created a statewide uniform restriction on plastic bags—an important element to retailers who want a level playing field. The Green Cities master assessment is aimed at encouraging local communities to pass bans using the it as a starting point, tailored to their own jurisdictions, but containing a uniform thread woven throughout. After enacting individual bans, local communities can go back to Sacramento to urge the Legislature to listen and continue working on a statewide ban. That effort culminated in a press event on Nov. 29 in Sacramento. After the state legislation failed, Marin bag-ban proponents proceeded to use the master assessment to help craft a county ordinance. (McGlashan has a close colleague in Green Cities. Carol Misseldine is a Green Cities director, Mill Valley’s first sustainability coordinator and she’s also married to McGlashan. Misseldine’s sustainability experience includes a stint in Oakland when current Gov. Jerry Brown was mayor.) Marin bag-ban proponents went one major step further than the proposed state legislation. They called for a ban on plastic bags in all retail establishments in county jurisdiction. At the first reading of the ordinance in December, Supervisor Judy Arnold said many retailers in Novato, which she represents, had not even heard about a possible bag ban, and springing it on them would be unfair. Supervisors agreed to restrict the ban to grocery stores at this time. The bag ban that reached supervisors Jan. 4 calls for prohibiting grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags at checkout counters. It also requires any retailer selling groceries to charge at least 5 cents for a paper bag made with recycled material. (The exact amount varies, depending on the cost of the bags to individual grocers.) The county Department of Weights and Measures will oversee the ordinance, checking on bag use and bag-fee collection as it checks scales and other equipment at retailers. The county estimates it costs $114 per hour for labor costs for inspections, but some of that amount

can be rolled into duties associated with routine inspections of weight and measuring devices. Retailers who repeatedly fail to heed the rules will be liable for a fine of between $135 for a second violation (after a warning) and $440 for a fourth violation. After that a violation can be referred to the district attorney for civil penalties. The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition is an “industry friendly” group dedicated to refuting the claim that plastic bags harm the environment—which has met widespread acceptance around the world. The coalition threatened to sue the county if it proceeds with a ban without conducting an environmental impact report, as it did in Fairfax; the group carried through on its threat Oakland, San Jose, and Manhattan Beach in the case now before the state Supreme Court. Ban proponents in Marin, however, say the ordinance here is aimed at reducing all single-use bags, not favoring paper over plastic. And by banning plastic and putting a fee on paper, the result is a clear environmental benefit because it would reduce the total use of all single-use bags. That benefit means a Marin ordinance would qualify for an exemption of the state environmental review rules. In addition to the issues raised by the coalition, jurisdictions proposing bag bans now must contend with legal implications of the recently passed Proposition 26, which calls for a twothirds vote on many taxes and fees previously enacted without vote. Misseldine says city attorneys who are members of Green Cities have looked at the proposition and determined that bans could be exempt if all revenue from a paper-bag fee “stays with the store.” That protects against Prop. 26, she says, “because none of the fee is going to the jurisdictions. It is a recouping of a legitimate cost.” But that doesn’t mean proponents feel complacent. “It’s always subject to a lawsuit, and we fully expect to be sued,” says Misseldine. “That’s what the American Chemistry Council does best.” At the meeting Jan. 4, McGlashan and Adams reiterated the county’s intentions to proceed with a bag-ban ordinance after carefully reviewing the coalition’s legal objections. They still want the ban to go into effect in January 2012. And proponents still plan to continue their push to sign up cities and to expand the ban beyond grocery stores. “We will continue to be vigilant about this kind of abuse” from industry operatives, McGlashan said on Tuesday. Supervisors scheduled the proposed bag ban for a return hearing at their Jan. 25 meeting. ✹ Contact the writer at

It’s your county, speak up at ››

Pacific Sun Weekly 01.07.2011  

Section 1 of the January 07. 2011 edition of the Pacific Sun Weekly

Pacific Sun Weekly 01.07.2011  

Section 1 of the January 07. 2011 edition of the Pacific Sun Weekly