The topic of plastic bags will be on the City Council’s menu on Monday, Dec. 10, although no action will be taken that night.
Culver City is one of the last Westside cities that have not taken a position on outlawing plastic bags, much to the chagrin of Sandrine Cassidy Schmidt, a resident and business owner. “It would have seemed logical for Culver City to pursue this much earlier,” Schmidt told the News. “However it’s never too late to tackle important issues and the council’s forthcoming discussion is welcome.”
Nearly 50 municipalities and counties throughout California have outlawed plastic bags, which are nonbiodegradable. However, advocates of eliminating what many consider to be a product that is harmful to the environment have not been as fortunate at the state level. A bill by Rep. Julia Brownley (D- Ventura), then an assemblywoman representing Santa Monica, did it not make it out of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee in July.
An earlier effort in 2010 also failed.
Sustainability proponents have advocated for a ban on single-use bags for the better part of two years. Transition Culver City, a local conservation and sustainability organization, has been at the forefront of the movement, holding rallies and screening “Bag IT!” an anti-plastic bag documentary in Culver City two years ago.
Mayor Andrew Weissman said there are certain statues that are necessary to consider before an ordinance to outlaw plastic bags can be greenlighted.
“This council has consistently directed staff to pursue drafting of a single use plastic bag ordinance. In this regard, I believe that any ordinance we adopt in Culver City should be consistent with actions staff taken in neighboring jurisdictions, both from policy and legal standpoints,” he said. “The legal issues include CEQA requirements. Any action taken in Culver City must satisfy the CEQA requirements and we may be able to adopt by reference the environmental findings from other cities if our ordinances are sufficiently similar.”
CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act, a 1970 state law that makes environmental protection a mandatory part of every California state and local agency’s decision making process.
The Manhattan Beach ordinance was upheld last year by the state Supreme Court after it was challenged by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.
According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, approximately six billion plastic bags are consumed in Los Angeles County each year. Because plastic bags do not biodegrade in the ocean, they pose a threat to marine animals that can confuse them with food and can ingest them, leading to choking, starvation or suffocation, the board said.
Councilwoman Meghan Sahli-Wells has been the council’s most outspoken advocate for crafting a municipal law that would make the sale of plastic bags in Culver City illegal. Prior to a candidates forum at the Culver City Democratic Club in February, no candidate for office other than Sahli-Wells had publicly indicated support for a ban. During the forum they all indicated that they supported such a ban.
The only elected official to accept an invitation to the screening of “Bag IT!” two years ago was Weissman.
Sahli-Wells, who as a member of Transition Culver City sought to lobby the council for a plastic bag ban two years ago, would also like to see environmental laws obeyed as well as consider any possible legal challenges. She thinks following the guidelines within the ban on the sale of plastic bags instituted on Nov. 10, 2010 by the county Board of Supervisors would be one of the easiest and safest options to follow.
“Part of the reason for (approving a countywide ban and writing a countywide environmental impact report) was so that other, smaller cities could follow their path,” said the councilwoman, who attended the meeting where the supervisors approved the ban. “It would make sense to be in line with the county.”
City Atty. Carol Schwab told the News in an interview earlier this year that her office would be examining several EIRs from municipalities that have enacted plastic bag bans, including Los Angeles County’s.
“We think it’s a good EIR,” she said.
Organizations that have lobbied against banning synthetic bags include the American Progressive Bag Alliance. The group criticized the Los Angeles City Council for voting for an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of the bags over the summer.
“Last week L.A. took the first step in a series of steps and processes to go ahead and ban bags and tax paper bags,” Donna Dempsey of the alliance said on June 14. Dempsey’s claims organization bans will cause job loss, higher food prices, and pose health and even environmental risks.
Weissman said it was also crucial to have a legal document that does not hinder merchants in Culver City. “We want an ordinance that is clear and effective and doesn’t place affected Culver City businesses at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
One of the concerns expressed by those who have been reluctant to support an ordinance prohibiting the sale of synthetic bags is if they are sold elsewhere in cities near Culver City but not within the city limits, businesses selling the bags might draw customers who still want them away from Culver City businesses.
Schmidt, who recently sold her reusable bag company, said plastic sacks cost consumers and governments more in the long run. “Although they are provided free of charge to customers, there are significant management costs to collect and properly manage them, and significant environmental costs that cannot be mitigated,” she said.
“And after recently visiting a materials recovery facility, since there is no market for plastic bags, they end up in the landfill anyway, which is a complete tragedy,” Schmidt added. “Everyone’s best bet is to bring them to those supermarkets with a bag return policy.”
Sahli-Wells thinks it is time for residents as well as the council to join the rest of the Westside and much of California in banning plastic bags. “If we’re going to truly call ourselves a green city, we need to do this,” she said.
Schmidt concurs. “Most of the ground work has been done by Los Angeles and the county and they have the (environmental impact) report and evidence they need to avoid a lawsuit,” she noted. “(The Culver City council) really just need to sign on it now.”