Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:02 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Council says yes to bag ban

Ban or not ban?

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

With Mayor James Hornaday's veto on the table of an ordinance prohibiting sellers from providing single-use, thin plastic shopping bags, the Homer City Council on Monday had one last shot to uphold the ordinance it passed in a 4 to 2 vote on Aug. 27. After considering an hour of public testimony, 22 letters, an elementary school poll and a petition, the council held its ground and struck down Hornaday's veto — the second of his mayoral career and the second to fail — in another 4 to 2 vote.

Ordinance 12-36(A) takes effect on New Year's Day.

The ordinance's intent is to reduce litter and harm to the environment by decreasing the use of disposable shopping bags. Council member Beau Burgess, who sponsored the ordinance with council member David Lewis, emphasized that the ordinance applies only to sellers providing very-thin plastic bags less than 2.25 mils not designed to be reused — a bag about one-third the thickness of a sheet of 20-pound weight copy paper. The council also amended the ordinance to allow businesses to use up bags after the ordinance takes effect that were purchased before Jan. 1.

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.

In the public comments part of the agenda, 26 spoke in favor of the ban, with three against. The council received 22 letters, all but three for the ban, and a 363-signature petition asking repeal of the ban.

The petition signers object to the premise of the ordinance and how it was imposed, Dan Gardner, the petition leader, wrote in a cover letter.

"A passionate, almost religious viewpoint of a few should not be imposed on the community without a vote from that community," he wrote.

A standing-room-only group showed up to speak on the ordinance, with 29 speaking and all but three in favor of the ban. Many of them held reusable shopping bags. When one speaker asked people in favor of the ban to stand up, about 40 total did so.

"Do the right thing," said Jack Wiles. "Protect the environment and the cosmic hamlet."

Sue Mauger, who identified herself as a resident of the Bridge Creek watershed, said banning plastic bags was similar to a step the council took when it protected the watershed for the city's water supply.

"Are we going too far in taking a lead? I don't think so," she said. "Let's don't make this some big wall where we have to start from the beginning. We're there. Let's do it."

Business owner Sue Post, a partner in the Homer Bookstore and the owner of a vacation rental house, said she didn't think the plastic bag ban would negatively affect tourists. At her rental, Post said she planned to start providing visitors with reusable bags they can borrow.

"I also see this as a great cottage industry for somebody to make cloth bags," she said.

Some people objecting to the plastic bag ban said they liked getting the free bags and reused them for picking up dog litter and lining garbage cans. The poor or people on fixed incomes appreciate them, said Jane Crossett.

"When I need them, I need them. There are a lot of us," she said. "We're not reprobates or druggies. We're poor."

Another opponent of the bag ban, Larry Slone, said he supported getting rid of plastic bags. He just didn't like the approach of the ordinance.

"The way to do that is approach it with a united front where everybody is on board — but clearly we're not there," he said.

Karin Marks, who owns the Art Shop Gallery, also opposed the bag ban. She wanted the council to think of its effect on small businesses. Marks noted that at least a discussion of the issue had been raised.

"Whatever happens tonight, there is an awful lot of good that has occurred," she said.

Will Schlein said the ordinance shouldn't be thought of as "the scary Taliban ordinance or the evil plastic bag ban."

"Obviously, this has been a contentious issue," he said. "Wouldn't you say we're getting caught up in metaphor?"

In discussing a motion to override Hornaday's veto, Burgess also commented on that level of rhetoric.

"This isn't the Gestapo of plastic bags — 'We're going to come into your home and take away your precious ability to pick up dog poo on the beach,'" he said.

Council member Beth Wythe said she didn't like being forced to make a conscious decision about how we treat the environment. She voted to upheld Hornaday's veto.

"I think that's their point, too," she said of ban opponents. "Every person has the choice ... I don't want you to tell me what I can and cannot do."

Council member Barbara Howard also voted against the ban, although she also opposes plastic bags.

"I have pledged to my children I will use cloth bags," she said. "I just don't like being told to do it."

Burgess said he agreed that government is not always the solution to a problem. For example, he said in one of his first votes after being appointed to the council in April, he voted for an amendment to sign code changes allowing portable or sandwich board signs to be up year round. However, Burgess also said he would vote for the council to act on issues of public safety or that something businesses or citizens aren't able or willing to do on their own. The bag ban was one such issue. Burgess noted a talk earlier that evening by Patrick Chandler of the Center of Coastal Studies, who spoke about marine debris, particularly from plastics. As a maritime community, plastics affect our shores and public health.

Businesses had time to come up with other solutions, Council member Francie Roberts said. She noted that Lewis had proposed but withdrawn plastic bag restrictions several years ago. Roberts said she understood the concerns of people about the ban.

"It could have some changes," she said. "At this time I think it's time to support it."

Burgess said with implementation three months away, there's time for the council to tweak the ordinance if people raise objections.

"If you have a viable solution, bring it forward," he said.

Burgess and Roberts were joined by Council members Bryan Zak and David Lewis in overriding Hornaday's veto.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

"By the time were done with those plastic bags, there's not a lot mother nature will get all PMSy about." – Jane Crossett

"It was amazing the response I got in the positive — not a single negative, all thinking we were really forward looking in that decision." - Deb Lowney, on tourist reaction to the bag ban.

"Banning nonreusable plastic bags is a low hanging fruit as other alternatives are available." – Megan Murphy

"Moving the city away from lightweight, ubiquitous plastic bags isn't going to put anyone out of business." – Rachel Lord

"Do the right thing. Stand up for Homer. Protect the environment and the cosmic hamlet." - Jack Wiles

"This is a change .. those that change and adapt to change are the future. I think it's a progressive ordinance you have." - George Matz

"I oppose plastic bags. I think they're a blight on the landscape. ... If we don't do something soon, they're going to take over the world. the way to do that is approach it with a united front where everybody is on board, but clearly we're not here." - Larry Slone

"I see the ban on a particular type of plastic bag as a very small step similar to one you took to protect the bridge creek watershed. ... We're ready. Are we overreaching as a council? are we going too far in taking a lead? I don't think we are. ... lets don't make this some big wall where we have to start from the beginning, were there. Let's do it."

"It's just a matter of people getting used to something new. I honestly feel we can break our addiction to plastic bags." – Sue Post

"The sooner we take the small step to start will be better ... let's get started now and be the leading first class municipality that Homer is." - Will Schlein

"A ban on bags in inconvenient, but it's the smallest, easiest step. ... Please enact this ban and don't kick this can down the road." - John Whittier

"Some people have been saying that the banning of plastic bags is against their rights, but I think that we need to look at the responsibilities by keeping Homer a clean environment. It's not that hard to bring your own bags. I do it all the time. By doing something little like this you can really help the environment. Please uphold the ban." – Wynand Strydom, age 11. He also submitted a poll taken of 5th and 6th grade students at West Homer Elementary School. Of students asked, 70 said they preferred cloth bags, 11 plastic bags and two paper bags.