CityWatch, Dec 20, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 101
RETHINKING LA - Faced with a choice between leading and following, LA’s City Council took another look at the proposed ordinance banning single use bags and chose to step aside, taking on the role of spectator as the issue gets studied again and again and again.
LA’s history of grappling with the issue of single use bags goes back years, an embarrassing legacy of skilled sidestepping and risk-aversion that has frustrated community members who attend meeting after meeting in the hopes that the City Council will move forward.
This past week, the issue came up in three different meetings, first in City Council where a full-house crowd was given a full 60 seconds per speaker to make their case.
Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold called out the City Council for failing to act on its prior commitments.
Friends of the LA River spoke of the immense burden on the river’s ecosystem and the incredible amount of volunteerism that is squandered in an uphill battle against plastic bag pollution.
Balancing the pro with a bit of con, employees of one of LA’s plastic bag manufacturers turned out to plead for their jobs, begging the question, what kind of industry is LA attracting and supporting?
There was tension in the air as Councilwoman Jan Perry took pains to remind the City Council and the audience that the proposed single use bag ordinance was on the agenda in her Energy & Environment Committee, a point that she drove home pointedly.
The turf war over single use bags continued this past Friday, first in Committee as Perry presided over a body that acquiesced to her contention “We have questions that haven’t been answered.”
Perry wanted to know how this ban would impact low-income families, senior citizens, people without access to reusable bags. Has the CAO weighed in on any potential costs? What are the chances of a lawsuit against the City of LA? What about any CEQA requirements? Has the City of LA done an EIR?
Perry’s final blow was to ask if there was an outreach plan for the proposed ban, as if the City of LA has a rigorous standard for connecting with the community on the issues that impact the quality of life in our communities.
All this was done with a straight face and the Energy & Environment Committee allowed the proposed ban to hobble downstairs to City Council Chambers where the real charade took place.
Councilman Zine stood to challenge the proposed ban, feigning confusion between a plastic bag with handles and a plastic bag for fruit. “I just don’t get it, they’re all plastic,’ he sputtered, “how do I shop for fruit if you ban plastic?”
Zine’s Sophistry was balanced by Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s dismissal of the fictional issues and his call to action. “The City Council acted on this issue before I was elected. Since then the City Council has acted to ban plastic bags and here we are again.” Rosendahl declared “I'm tired of constantly studying this to death. It's a no-brainer that those plastic bags are toxic and cause issues to our ecosystem."
But, the die was cast, the public had been teased and three meetings had taken place, allowing Councilmembers to posture and primp and clamor for the high road, all as they allow the ordinance banning single use bags to get away, again.
Many of the single use bag ban supporters were hoping that a ban in Los Angeles would resonate, stirring support for a statewide ban, while others held out hope for a statewide ban, allowing LA to follow rather than lead.
As it turns out, neither scenario is likely at this point and it is surrounding cities such as Long Beach and Santa Monica that are following the lead of LA County with bans that rely on existing EIR work and standards that have survived legal challenges.
The ban is supported by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, 18 Neighborhood Councils and the California Grocers Association. LA’s Board of Public Works unanimously approved a report urging the Mayor and City Council to adopt a citywide ban on single-use carryout bags.
Zine’s cloud of confusion was disingenuous at best, easily addressed by a glance at the ordinance itself and existing clarification that allows for bags to hold produce and meats while requiring free reusable bags for low-income and elderly.
As the proposed ban sinks back into committee wasteland, perhaps the place to start would be a ban on single use bags in City Council chambers.
After the Councilmembers had taken turns waxing eloquent on the evils of everything from single use bags that clog our waterways to plastic manufacturing beads that litter our landscape, their actions began to speak louder than their words.
As the noontime hour approached, a city staffer delivered lunch to his boss as he sat in Council Chambers. It arrived in a single use plastic bag that held a single use Styrofoam container full of food that was eaten with single use plasticware, washed down by a beverage that arrived in a single use container.
It’s been seven years since the City of LA initiated the charade that now consumes the time and energy of the community while allowing the City Council to avoid producing real results.
This is a vivid reminder that the people of LA must pay attention to what the City Council does, not what they say!
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)