Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:59 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Plastic bag veto vote postponed

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

The Homer City Council at its regular meeting Monday postponed a vote to consider overriding a veto by Homer Homer Mayor James Hornaday of a city ordinance that banned thin, disposable plastic shopping bags. The council has until Sept. 28 to successfully override the veto. A veto override requires four votes. The council will consider the veto on Sept. 24. If it fails to override the veto, the ordinance is off the books.

In a 4-2 vote, the Homer City Council at its Aug. 27 regular meeting passed Ordinance 12-36(a). Introduced by Council members Beau Burgess and David Lewis, the sponsors were joined by Council members Francie Roberts and Bryan Zak in supporting the ordinance. Lewis was absent Monday and Zak attended by telephone. On Monday, the council unanimously agreed to postpone the veto vote.

The ordinance's intent is to reduce litter and harm to the environment by decreasing the use of disposable shopping bags. It would have banned sellers from providing customers with very-thin bags less than 2.25 mils thick — about one-third the thickness of a sheet of 20-pound weight copy paper.

The ordinance would not ban thicker plastic shopping bags, plastic bags sold for trash disposal, bags used for produce and bulk items, bags for frozen foods, bags for prescription drugs, newspaper bags, and bags for prepared foods and bakery goods.

Handing over the gavel to Mayor Pro Tempore Beth Wythe, Hornaday spoke as a citizen to explain his veto. In a note on the veto, he had said, "I believe this issue needs to come back to the council for more work."

Monday night, Hornaday said he had a number of people talk to him about the plastic bag ban, with more speaking against it than for it, he said. The ban reminded him of the debate over banning smoking in buildings. Most people agreed the city didn't need regulation of private businesses, and through education, most private businesses and all city buildings are smoke free.

"There are people of good will on both sides," Hornaday said. "I found the ordinance confusing. I'm hoping for something of a voluntary program like we used to have, where you could have plastic or paper."

In public testimony, the support was mixed. Sue Post, a partner in the Homer Bookstore, brought a collection of reusable shopping bags to show how she has eliminated using plastic bags after taking a personal pledge to do so two years ago. She included a thicker, reusable plastic bag she said stores in Seattle now offer after banning the thinner bags.

"I was thrilled when I heard that the plastic bag ban was going into effect," Post said. "Unless there is a law out there, most people aren't going to change their ways."

Another Homer business owner, Craig Forrest, owner with his wife of Tech Connect, said he supported the veto. He said the best way to encourage not using plastic bags is education. At Tech Connect, although he offers bags, about 90 percent of the customers don't take them.

"At the store we offer plastic bags. We don't encourage them," he said.

Robert Archibald, who lives on one of the roads leading to the Homer Landfill, said he sees one effect of plastic bags: their prevalence along the side of the road from being blown off cars going to the dump.

"There's probably a happy medium," he said. "Maybe it's time to re-evaluate the fines for stuff coming out of their cars."

Burgess encouraged supporters of the plastic bag ban to speak up.

"Lend your voice to this discussion," he said. "It needs to be heard to get the votes to overturn the mayor's veto."

If the council takes no action by Sept. 28, the override stands and the ordinance is off the books. The council cannot amend or change the plastic bag ordinance as passed. Any changes would require introduction of a new ordinance.

Hornaday's veto is only his second in his eight years as Homer mayor. In May 2009, Hornaday vetoed a change in water and sewer rates. The council overrode that veto. An election for mayor and two council seats is Oct. 2, but Hornaday is not running for re-election.

In other action, the council:

• Approved Hornaday's appointment of Kevin Walker to the Transportation Advisory Committee;

• Introduced on first reading an ordinance to purchase for $106,000 a lot near Bartlett Street and Pioneer Avenue for downtown restrooms and future road expansion;

• Passed a resolution initiating a petition for a special assessment district in the Lillian Walli Subdivision near West Homer Elementary School to prepare the lots owned by the city for sale and further residential development;

• Sent back to the Parks and Recreation Committee a resolution to pursue engineering and survey for a nonmotorized trail from the Homer Spit Road by Kachemak Drive to the long term parking lot. Council members said the resolution was vague and not properly worded. Committee member Dave Brann said he was frustrated that the resolution hadn't passed.

"Every time we come, it comes back with 'more information, so and so.' We need some help," Brann said.

Wythe and Roberts offered to work with the committee to improve the resolution.

The next regular meeting is 6 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Cowles Council Chambers, Homer City Hall.