I was reading a rather pointed letter to the editor of the Enterprise suggesting that “[t]elling some businesses they may no longer use plastic bags versus telling all businesses they may no longer use plastic bags is selective fascism versus total fascism.”
They then proceed to argue, “Democracy means that the people decide! Put plastic bags in Davis to a vote of the people of Davis!”
I do find it interesting that people tend to think of representative democracy as illegitimate, while accepting the notion of direct democracy as legitimate. I find myself channeling the voices who this week argue that we, in fact, elect our representatives for a reason and, if we do not like what they do, we simply vote them out.
I find myself also mirroring those who argue that we cannot put everything on the ballot and therefore must reserve ballot questions for the big issues of the day. For the most part, the city has not put a tremendous amount on the ballot. Parcel taxes are required by law, land use decisions are required by city ordinance.
Given the magnitude of the impact of the water rates, I think that was a reasonable decision, especially considering the amount of polarization on that issue.
Given all that, under normal conditions I would not be inclined to put plastic bags on the ballot. Let the council decide the issue, right? That is what they are there to do. If people do not like their decision, vote them out.
Seems like an easy call here. But then I got to thinking: maybe we should put the decision on the ballot. The assumption made by opponents of the plastic bag ban is that the majority of citizens would oppose such a measure. But would they?
Up and down the coast of California, we have seen more and more communities ban plastic bags. Why? Several reasons. First, the use of disposable products in large quantities is ultimately not sustainable. We need to move away from the use of products that end up in landfills or, worse yet, on the side of the roads. They end up clogging waterways, causing damage to marine life and birds, and they are a general nuisance.
There are currently 58 communities with plastic bag ordinances. These include most of the communities considered most progressive: Alameda County, Mendocino County, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, etc.
The areas most think of as most progressive and environmentally conscious have already made the decision to ban plastic bags. Missing from that list is, of course, the city of Davis.
Davis has lived for years off its progressive reputation: bike lanes, Village Homes, the solar array in Community Park, and the smoking ban. But critics like the Vanguard have noted the lack of innovative development since Village Homes, that the solar array doesn’t work and the smoking ban is twenty years old, and for most of the more recent environmental innovations, Davis has not led the way.
Hey, you can’t even reasonably bicycle down Fifth Street to get to the National Bicycling Hall of Fame. We should be embarrassed – instead we’re fighting over the Fifth Street redesign.
So, is Davis a progressive community on the environmental forefront?
One way to find out is whether Davis is willing to join its progressive brethren across the state and become the 59th city or county to enact a plastic bag ordinance.
I think it is time for Davis to put up or shut up. And therefore, I surprisingly have reached the conclusion that Davis needs to put its plastic bag ban on the ballot. If it passes, then we can keep our name in the conversation as being among the more progressive communities in California – even if we are no longer leading the way.
But if the bag ordinance loses, it is all over for Davis. I have been arguing, for my seven years on the Vanguard, that Davis has the veneer of progressivism, so that if you scrape away you find regressive and downright reactionary policies at its core.
This is a critical testing point. Will the voices of progressivism that still claim to run this community prevail, or will the reactionary voices that gain a home with a certain newspaper columnist ultimately prove to be stronger?
Are we the community of Cool Davis, the Climate Action Report, the National Bicycling Hall of Fame, or are we a community that believes that there is not a plastic bag problem.
The city’s EIR notes, “From an overall environmental and economic perspective, the best alternative to single-use plastic and paper carry-out bags is a shift to reusable bags. Studies and impacts from similar policies adopted in other jurisdictions document that restricting plastic bags and placing fees on paper bags will dramatically reduce the use of both types of bags.”
“Despite their lightweight and compact characteristics, plastic bags disproportionately impact the solid waste and recycling stream and persist in the environment even after they have broken down,” the city continues. “Even when plastic bags are disposed of properly, they often become litter due to their aerodynamic nature. The bags can be blown out of the landfill by the wind. Plastic litter not only causes visual blight, but can potentially harm wildlife.”
A 2011 letter from Rebecca Loux in the Enterprise noted, “Davis, as a leading California environmental community, needs to take action now to ban single-use plastic grocery bags. The Pacific Garbage Patch, already twice the size of Texas, is an ecological disaster that has tripled in the past 30 years.”
But Davis hasn’t led the way. So I believe it is time for Davis to step up to the plate and show why it should still be considered a leading community in the environmental and progressive movement.
In an ideal world, of course, we would not have to prove ourselves. But given the strong undercurrent pushing us away from our brethren, I see little other choice.
So the Davis City Council should punt on this difficult issue, put the matter before the voters, and put our reputation as a progressive community on the line for all to see. Or maybe we can just let the city councilmembers do their jobs and let our votes next June determine in what future direction we go.
—David M. Greenwald reporting