Lacking a Serious Debate, Oakley Rejects Idea of Plastic Bag Ordinance

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On Tuesday night, the Oakley City Council discussed a potential ordinance on prohibiting the use of single-use plastic carryout bags and allow the sale of paper or reusable bags for a small charge.

The ordinance, mostly symbolic, would have promoted the usage of reusable bags which in theory would help reduce trash within Oakley and further help prevent trash from entering the Delta.  

The council did not wish to take up the issue further and preferred to wait for a regional approach.

It should be pointed out that absent from the staff report was the City of Oakley did not include their own trash assessment of an area each year.  The assessment is required by the county which was shared by Councilwoman Diane Burgis.

  • In 2010, 16.4% of garbage was plastic bags.
  • In 2011, 18% of garbage was plastic bags
  • In 2012, it went down to 12%.
  • In 2013, 22% of garbage was plastic bags

That means that much of the trash in this 300 foot area that they go to every year is a much more scientific count. They are saying minimally its 10% but as much as 22% of trash we are finding in our creek and streets and all kinds of places is plastic bag

Although I’ve included a full recap below, here is a quick overview of the 30-minute discussion.

  • William Galstan, Special Counsel: called an ordinance confusing on shoppers depending on what city they are shopping in.
  • Doug Hardcastle: Called the policy “legislating laziness” and that the real problem is from fast food garbage. He also admitted to being confused on what types of plastic bags Ms. Burgis was referring to while bringing up the ordinance.
  • Diane Burgis: Advocated for the policy to help reduce trash in Oakley and be environmentally friendly. She called it a first step in a larger solution.
  •  Carol Rios: Concerned about enforcement and preferred to take up the issue six-months from now. She preferred to see how Pittsburg’s ordinance pans out and see what the rest of the county does.
  •  Randy Pope:  Did not want to act on a single use plastic bag ban because it was not a overall solution because he felt that all plastic bags/bags used in Oakley should be biodegradable or decomposable.
  • Kevin Romick: Stated he wanted a regional approach before he moved forward. Mocked the enforcement stating they would be doing sting operations n plastic bags. He also questioned the cost stating the State and County have not moved forward so the City should not create an ordinance.

Burgis admitted she saw the writing on the wall where she lacked support to further discuss the issue. 

“I think we can be followers or we can be leaders. I mean we live in probably the most sensitive environmental town of the four cities. You know, I can count, I understand I may be the minority but I think we can be leaders. I think we can say that we do care,” said Burgis.

She further stated that she believes all cities in East County will create some sort of policy.

“I can tell you that I believe all these towns are going to do it and if you guys feel like we need to follow them because we are not willing to say we care about this  and willing to take first steps. I will be here waiting,” stated Burgis.

Editorial Comment:

First off, let me just say that I oppose a single use plastic bag ban at this time. While I believe the ordinance is premature, I disagree with the council’s attitude in dismissing the ordinance and unwilling to listen to a topic deemed important by a fellow councilmember.

While I do disagree with Councilwoman Burgis at this time, I will admit I am a fan of debate and honest discussion—that unfortunately did not occur beginning with an incomplete staff report which didn’t even include figures from a waste assessment that they have done for four years. It also failed to include “real” information on the county’s stance on the issue and why after three years they failed to move forward. It also lacked information on the State of California and its stance.

A City Council who may not be experts in a topic is only as strong as their staff and the information a staff provides them. One could make the argument staff was not interested, so very little effort was invested in the topic.

For whatever reason, whether it be a disinterest in the topic, being unprepared, or even confused on the issue, four of the councilmembers responded to the ordinance in a smug-like demeanor and appeared to have their mind made up even before the meeting. Again, this is coming from someone who  someone who agrees with a majority of the council not to move forward.

As part of their strategy to dismiss the ordinance, Romick, Pope, Hardcastle and Rios turned the discussion to anything but single use plastic bags so an honest debate never really could occur. Instead of sticking with bags, they are bringing up hot dog containers, bread plastics, candy bar wrappers, fast food and even a ski resort ban on plastic lids which has little if not nothing to do with grocery store bags.

The council wants to bring up cost of enforcement—lets discuss it. It costs nothing to enforce because all the ordinance really does is encourage the use of reusable bags. For example, Pittsburg stated Monday night it will not increase their budget by a dime.

Mayor Romick wants to talk about why hasn’t the state or county taken up the issue, he wasn’t being 100% honest during his comments. The state did not take up the issue not because it was expensive, but rather they wanted the decision to remain local—not because of political pressure or expense.

Meanwhile, the County which has been trying for 3-years to place a ban would have to pay a $300k EIR. The County is not going to spend money it doesn’t have.

Finally, the self-proclaimed environmentalist and outdoorsman Randy Pope would apparently prefer a much more burdensome policy on local business than a single bag plastic ban. I question his sincerity on that considering he wouldn’t even take a simple first step in what would be many over time to get to his preferred  policy that ensures all plastics used in Oakley are biodegradable or decomposable.

It’s rather ironic that the most logical comment of the evening came from the public in Paul Seger where he stated, “I think you have a great opportunity to be leaders for this fight in the delta. We are right there and we are gatekeepers of a very awesome part of human evolution on the Delta. It’s our job to protect it and that is one of the things we need to take seriously.

He is absolutely correct. If anything, this policy not only helps keep Oakley cleaner, but more importantly it protects the Delta and I believe the council did the region a disservice by not taking the topic seriously—maybe through discussion a compromise or adjusted ordinance could have occurred. Using logic, if Pittsburg and Oakley had a similar ban, Antioch would be sandwiched between two cities with a ban and would likely also take up the issue given their garbage and blight issues.

It’s rather unfortunate Oakley has a unprepared slay dragons and take on an issue which encourages others to follow them, instead, Oakley has a council who would prefer others dictate our future actions.

For example the San Diego City Council’s Rules and Economic Development Committee is moving forward with a plastic ban which the council will take up in the future which was reported October 24. Also, the City of Truckee is closing in on a plastic-bag ban proposal. The City of Brentwood will soon discuss the policy as well.

While I am no fan of a plastic bag ban, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize some form of policy regarding reusable bags is coming in the future. Its no longer “if” but “when” it happens.  Oakley would be wise to change its tone and take the discussion a little more serious in order to create policy for others to mimic as opposed to following policy that others create.

Going forward, I would encourage the council to lose the attitude and simply discuss the topic while respecting their follow council person.

City Council Discussion Recap:

William Galstan, Special Counsel: I think that the experience is typically these ordinances are most effective when there is a group of cities or regional governments that all have the same type of ordinance. I know speaking from personal experience my wife and I grocery shop in Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood, and trying to think what city has what regulations might be a little awkward but if there was a common regulation that might be helpful.

He explained that in Santa Cruz it’s regional and it encourages people to carry their bags. He suggested the council reach out to Antioch and Brentwood to see if they have an interest in adopting a similar ordinance or go on their own and follow Pittsburg lead.

Hardcastle: I think what we are trying to do is kind of legislate people being lazy not taking the time out to recycle or they are just people who litter. I guarantee you if somebody dropped a $5 bill they would chase it down the parking lot to pick up that $5 bill but if it’s a plastic bag they will let it go. So what we are trying to do is legislate people being lazy. I am in the retail business and we use plastic bags so I don’t know if I am supposed to vote on this or not but if you ever work retail if you ever try and hit them with another charge they hit you with are you out of your mind. “

Hardcastle further questioned why fast food and restaurants would be exempt because they are probably the most things that get littered.

Burgis:  I spend my professional life contemplating water quality and when I was elected as a water quality director so the full reason why I wanted our council to look at this is I see the effects of plastic bag on our environment and us as a community and economically.

I think most of, if not all of the council is very supportive of protecting the Delta and I work with fisherman, boaters, environmentalist and people interested in our delta and they are all extremely supportive of our efforts to clean up trash on the coastline. On Sept. 21, we did creek cleanup, which cleaned up creak and delta coastline, in 3-hours, 503 volunteers showed up because they care and they picked up 6.75 tons of trash in 3-hours.

We do these counts and try and figure out what we are picking up on creek clean up. I could come out and bring out and show what I collected. I wanted to get numbers from outside so I asked the City of Oakley for their trash assessment numbers. My hand is not in these numbers and they are presented by other people.

So we have done four trash assessments and these are required for our storm water permit and it seems that the council from last year had to deal with the high cost of meeting our storm water permit and we don’t have the money to do it. The campaign by the County to support those funds did not come through. So we have requirements down the road that we are going to meet so this is a part of possibility meeting those goals.

Let me point this out,

  • In 2010, 16.4% of garbage was plastic bags.
  • In 2011, 18% of garbage was plastic bags
  • In 2012, it went down to 12%.
  • In 2013, 22% of garbage was plastic bags

That means that much of the trash in this 300 foot area that they go to every year is a much more scientific count. They are saying minimally its 10% but as much as 22% of trash we are finding in our creek and streets and all kinds of places is plastic bags. So I understand  legislating laziness, I kind of get that. We have eliminated chemicals that we use because it’s bad for us. We have done things environmentally that we didn’t know was bad for us. We have generations of people that remember when there was not plastic bags and they were fine. I have a 16-year-old boy who went to San Francisco for the Academy of Arts three times a week and he would go into the store and realized they did not give out bags and he had to buy one—he got used to it within a week. He started carrying a re-usable bag.

I have to admit to you that I have reusable grocery bags in the back of my car and I have to admit I am not religious about doing it. I don’t bring it in. I forget. I am not trying to push something I do on everyone else; I think this is a solution that contributes to a problem that we can solve. On top of that, when you go shopping for a house, you go look for a house that has pretty landscaping, something that doesn’t have trash in front of it because that has value. When you go to a house that has trash and overgrown, it has less value.

There is something called the broken window syndrome. That if you see garbage, graffiti, broken window, there is going to be higher crime, there is going to be house prices that are lower and people going to feel its okay to do other things like trash. Boy I have a lot to say so I apologize but I think about it all the time and I am working on solutions to reduce this.

If I was talking about crime, I’d really rely on my fellow councilman who is a police officer. Or if it was regarding medical care I would list to Ms. Rios. I read this, I see it, we’ve pick up thousands of bags and you can go down to Costco and buy a things of bags, you can order favorite bags and bring them into the store. But we are trying to do is reduce that amount of trash we are just handing to people. That is all.

Public Comments:

Paul Seger:  I think you have a great opportunity to be leaders for this fight in the delta. We are right there and we are gatekeepers of a very awesome part of human evolution on the Delta. It’s our job to protect it and that is one of the things we need to take seriously. 

Council Discussion

Vice Mayor Pope: I went through a mental journey on this one. The bag ban really sounds good on the surface. I see litter… I do see plastic. But it’s not single use plastic which is what this ban is what we are talking about now is just talking about those grocery store bags for lack of a better term. But its candy bar wrappers and paper sacks. I am a big snow skier and up the ski resort banned the plastic on lids and straws because of plastics. So you get your drink of soda and your kid is holding it and spills everywhere. I prefer having a lid. So this year, the lids are back and the straws are back. But printed on them is biodegradable or decomposable. So they apparently through science have found a solution. Being an outdoorsman and nature person, it’s important to us. So instead of it being an outright ban, that is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let’s find a better solution and perhaps mandating these bags be compostable or biodegradable in a certain amount of maximum years so everything is biodegradable in 1000 years.

The argument is that we have been hearing for years of paper vs. plastic is that plastic saves the paper so you don’t have to cut trees but paper is recyclable. Well now plastic is recyclable. He further went into an article he read about recycling and fuel cost to transport and create plastic vs. paper (Note: he provided no numbers).

I am not going to argue that I know the solution, but an outright ban isn’t the solution.  I would move that plastics used should be compostable or biodegradable. Any tax or fee collected with this should go towards the cleanups, not allowing retailers to keep them. I also believe the retailers should not be adding the cost of the bags to everybody because right now it’s just incorporated into the cost of what you buy as the cost of doing business because if you use a bag, buy a bag. But if we add a tax or fee to that it should go towards remediation, cleanup, education and that is where I think the big thing is at, like Mr. Hardcastle said, legislating laziness.  But education goes a long way, you just don’t drop this, you put it in a recycle bid. There is a better, smarter, faster way.

Pope stated that if we were to address plastic bags, I don’t think anyone should get an exemption. I would not be in favor of exempting certain classes and be a mandate that is universal for biodegradable compostable instead of an outright ban.

Rios: Ordinances are proposed, there is the implementation and enforcement. I went to Pittsburg where Pittsburg enforcement is city manager and code enforcement officer. I think our City Manager has a list of as many hats as he can handle and our code enforcement officer is drowning in his workload. If nothing else, the enforcement process is $100 fine for first violation. If a little child drops the bag do you give them a fine. Who is responsible? The enforcement is a challenge to me. I would like to take a step back and see how these ordinances pan out and observe what successful and what is not and we can craft and ordinance that really address the issue and make sure we touch everything. I just want to see how they work. January 1 is not that far away and come back in six months and re-evaluate it.

Hardcastle:  questioned just what type of bags the council was talking about asking if they were talking about white plastic bags or the plastic bags hot dogs come in, the bread, the ones newspapers are wrapped in.  Asked if they are going to legislate all the way to the manufactures and say your not going to use plastic anymore? He asked Burgis she was the one who brought this up so what are we talking about?

Burgis: I agree Styrofoam is a big issue, candy wrappers are a big issue, all types of plastics are a big issue, however, we can’t just stop doing something, we have to re-teach ourselves. I’ve had this discussion with main street where we are learning to have a downtown, we are learning to be better stewards of our environment by taking on better habits. Recycling has not been a voluntary thing, but its been given an opportunity Reducing the amount of bags at this time in the grocery bags is just a first step. This is not some radical new thing. Looking at it six months down the road, how long ago did Richmond put theirs in? El Cerrito? Those are both in Contra Costa County.

I know San Jose put theirs on and it’s been so successful originally they were going to go from 10 cents to 25 cents a bag. It’s not about getting rid of plastic bags; it’s about using re-usable bags. It’s an ordinance for reusable bags. It wasn’t an ordinance against plastic banning plastics, it was an ordinance about learning to re-use bags and ya we could say since it’s not going to solve the whole problem we shouldn’t do anything and it’s also probably not practical to just say let’s get rid of it all.

Someone made a really good point; we are the place where people come to go fishing. We are the place people go to come boating. We want to promote our vineyards. We don’t want plastic bag flying around in our vineyards. We have these wonderful trails we want to protect our delta. This is one step.

I suspect this is going to come statewide, this is just an expensive thing for the state to take on—that was said at the Pittsburg meeting. The state is leaving it to local control because it’s too expensive for them to take on. The county wants to do it, but it’s expensive for them to take on. For a city, it isn’t. It’s a local approach to solve a problem. It’s a beginning. If we want to become that destination and promote our environment and say we care to our residents, this is a good first step.

Romick: I have issues with it. I have issues with us being the only ones out here. I agree with Mr. Galstan that in anything for something like this to work it needs to be a region. We tried it at the state, they backed down. I don’t understand how it can be so expensive for the state but individual cities can do it. Are we looking at any cost? What type of cost are we looking at any cost of enforcing it? Obviously Ms. Rios pointed out we are not going to have our city manager running around tracking people down or code enforcement officer looking for people who are discarding plastic bags they got in another community—that’s asinine and not going to work.

Galveston  further explained how Pittsburg would enforce the ordinance and how businesses are supposed to report their findings and bags. He suggested that code enforcement would go to business and see if they are being accurate and reporting the program.

Romick responded, just what we need a sting for plastic bags.

Romick: we haven’t got the state to do this. I am trying to figure out why the state had three bills come before them this year and all three of them went down in defeat. Why did the Mayors Conference in Contra Costa County decided not to pursue this. Why is it so expensive at the county level but cities can do it. This expensive to me is appears to be a reason to pass it on. Either they don’t want to upset constituents or they just don’t want to deal with it. It’s easier to pass it onto the cities which doesn’t do any good, yes it does good, I won’t so it doesn’t do any good, but it doesn’t achieve the overall goal to limit garbage. My tour of Marsh Creek when I did my cleanup this year, was I did a couple hundred feet either side of the creek at creekside I didn’t pick up one plastic bag. What I did cleanup was tons of garbage from fast food restaurants, tons of discarded drinking containers from Styrofoam to plastics and tons of leftover bait holders. It was littered up and down the river but there wasn’t any plastic bags. It was all the other stuff that comes with fast food that comes with it. I am just telling you my experience and you can discount my experience and that is okay. I can tell you I walk up Empire every Saturday morning what I am not seeing is plastic bags. What I am seeing is fast food garbage. What I am seeing in our community is from fast food, wrappers, once again candy bars, I also live in a cul-de-sac with the wind blowing and stops at my garage door its not plastic bags, its newspapers, its discarded fast food.

Like you say it’s one step at a time, but we can’t solve the worlds crisis but ourselves, if you want to do this, gather up all our neighboring communities and get all of East County to agree to do something as a unit as opposed to enforcing this as just the City of Oakley. I would like to see a more unified effort to confront all the garbage and why are we picking on plastic bags because unfortunately they are more noticeable when they are up their floating or stuck on screen fence and more noticeable than anything else. When they are stuck in the trees, they are more noticeable than anything else and obviously it’s easier. But if we are not going to have people around us participating it’s not going to solve the problem that we have with all this garbage being accumulating in our community and floating out into the Delta.

Burgis: So if we have Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood and Oakley, we have Pittsburg already pass it. I know Brentwood was very positive in this… I think we can be followers or we can be leaders. I mean we live in probably the most sensitive environmental town of the four cities. You know, I can count, I understand I may be the minority but I think we can be leaders. I think we can say that we do care. Truthfully significantly, regarding the number of bags distributed Oakley probably is the least of all of them but we can say we care about this issue we want to be leaders and we care about our environment.

I can tell you that I believe all these towns are going to do it and if you guys feel like we need to follow them because we are not willing to say we care about this and willing to take the first steps. I will be here waiting.

Pope: Our franchise agreement with our solid waste, can we have them include in the next one that we recycle this bags.

Burgis: I spoke to Mr. Garaventa and they do recycle them. They use it to create the plastic board on porches. They have to bail it, then send to china on a boat. Recycle it there, put back on a boat and brought back here. We don’t recycle it here in US. He said that he was fine with it. As far as cost, they are not making money off t, they are required.

Pope: My point being education might be a mid-step here. Even on this council that we didn’t know the recycle took these and we can put them in your recycle bin. I know I reuse mine for dog waste and baby diapers. But I think education is a good step and people learn where to put it and over the shoulder and not caring where it goes and it ends up in the creek or water.

Hardcastle: We do use recycle bags at my house, like I said in the front of my business I am picking up fast food garbage. If you want to get on the ban waiving and stop a lot of the garbage you need to go to McDonalds, Carls Jr, well not really, you need to go to the people who are throwing it out of the side of the cars like that. So that is why we are trying to legislate people being lazy because we already have laws on the book for littering so like we are talking about fining people for dropping a bag on the ground or stuff like that, that is pushing everything a little different. Like I said, the majority of my garbage I get at my business is from fast food so if you want to carry the banner I’ll be right behind you on that one but after the white plastic bags, I use them in my business, I use about 100 a year so it’s not that big of deal but it’s just the idea of stepping into someone else business and telling them how to run their business. If I was in the legislator and stuff like that I would try and take away more laws than add more laws. There is plenty on the books already that are not enforced. If they were enforced we wouldn’t have to do anything else.

Burk Byline

By Michael Burkholder
[email protected]

11 COMMENTS

  1. Another example of the oakley city council not looking at the big picture. Shouldn’t ensuring Oakley remain clean be a priority of the council? For all the complaining Hardcastle is doing on McDonalds and Carls Jr. when I ask what does he plan to do about it?

  2. This is America, stop telling business what types of bags they can give to their customers. Mr. Burkholder, I have a hard time believing you are against a bag ban.

  3. Like Randy Pope did with the bees, Diane Burgis should do with away environmental nonsense. Leave your personal hobby at the door and represent Oakley, not create policy for your personal benefits. We have bigger issues than bees and bags.

    The author appears to want no part of a ban but is encouraging policy? HUH?

  4. What a waste. I agree, do something you want rather than do something you don’t want at a later date. Carol Rios wait and see attitude has highlighted her need to go away. To be honest I laughed when I read Kevin Romick bring up a sting operation for bags but I doubt Ms. Burgis and environmentalist find that funny. East County can benefit from less garbage. Oakley has proven once again they are not ready to put on their big boy pants.

  5. Before you all go drink the kool aid of Burkholder, if the council does not want it, why would they spend time talking about? Just another poor piece by this guy trying to pander to his audience instead of reality. This comes down to people picking up after themselves and we have laws on the books for that. Fix that, then no bag ordinance is needed. This guy always has an opinion, but knows very little.

  6. Councilwoman Burgis needs to leave her job at the door and not force her agenda on Oakley. We voted her into represent the people, not push for a policy that benefits herself.

    The council made the right call in not giving this much thought.

  7. Putting it to a vote of the people will be an expensive ballot measure the people don’t have the money to pay for.

  8. Every morning I have to go out by the road and pick up the trash that gets blown out of cars and/or tossed out. Fast food wrappers, napkins, soda cups and cigarette boxes/butts are the bulk of the trash. So while I do agree with Mr. Romick (hell must be getting cold) I also agree with Ms. Burgis. We need to do something about plastic bags AND all other trash. But again Oakley can pass a ban but in reality there is NO businesses to shop at except the grocery stores.

  9. Truckee passed its plastic bag ban and it goes into effect in a month. Guess what? There was some cause for concern (amongst people who have a hard time adapting to change), some hesitation, but it’s happening and everyone will get used to it. And the trash and waste decreases a little bit. It is so simple. Why does it occupy so much of the conversation? Businesses adapt or die. The Town Council doesn’t exist for businesses. It exists as a mechanism for people to sculpt their community. Businesses are part of a community. When they ignore their community, they fail. The plastic bag ban will cost Truckee businesses nothing and will save everyone money. Who objects to that but someone who hasn’t done a damned bit of research?

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