For years Davis has prided itself on being one of the progressive leaders in the state and, indeed, the nation. From Village Homes to the Solar Array to bicycle paths to the smoking ordinance, the city of Davis has had a proud progressive legacy.
But in the last few decades, the rest of the state and, indeed, communities around the country have caught up and surpassed a Davis that has largely been living on its laurels. Even its biking legacy is tainted somewhat by the slow play on the Fifth Street redesign – which has been in the works for more than a decade.
Tonight, the Davis city council could become the 60th community in California to pass a local ordinance that prohibits or otherwise restricts the use of single-use shopping bags. The communities that most think of as the 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.
City staff and the Natural Resources Commission have laid out why this ordinance is needed.
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.”
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.
Some have tried to latch on to some of the more global reasoning – plastic bags end up in the ocean and endanger wild life. That is undoubtedly true, even if none of the bags from Davis ever make it from the slough into the Delta and into the ocean itself.
Bottom line, bags are pollutants in the environment, and their single usage is a waste of natural resources and energy.
The logic against a bag ban is one of wastefulness and, at times, inconvenience. It may be more inconvenient to have to go to more biodegradable products to deal with dog waste, but I have spoken to a number of dog owners who have been doing this for years.
Many make use of produce plastic bags. We will still have the lightweight produce bags, meat bags, bags that line processed foods -and the final fallback is that the city may be able to get a grant for biodegradable doggy bags that it could put in the dog park and perhaps in some other public places. For a few thousand dollars a year, we can have a much more environmentally-friendly and sustainable community.
There are well-intentioned citizens who argue that if we ban plastic shopping bags, people will go to more wasteful activities. But why? Isn’t taking care of the environment the responsibility of us all? Does taking care of the environment have to be convenient?
Bottom line is that there are alternatives to wasteful activities to compensate for the loss of plastic shopping bags.
If Davis strives to be a community that prides itself on environmental stewardship, it is not going to use the loss of plastic shopping bags as an excuse to become more wasteful.
There is also the red herring of reusable bags carrying diseases. There are several alternatives to this. First, simply wash your bags with the rest of your laundry. Why is that a big deal?
Second, the ban is for the take-out bags, not the produce and meat bags.
Third, there is no law that says you have to use reusable bags. You have the option of paying ten cents for a paper bag or doing it like Costco does, putting the groceries directly into your trunk.
Somehow people who shop at the Food Co-op and Whole Foods have survived. Somehow people in 80 communities under plastic bag ordinances have, as well.
Much of the debate has focused on the form of the ordinance. The council has already had the onerous recording provisions removed. The city staff has provided the council with several alternatives.
The staff developed the exemptions for good reasons. First, the exemptions still allowed the vast majority of bags to subjected to the ordinance. Second, the exemptions allowed those businesses that are smaller and for whom the ordinance would be a larger inconvenience to continue to provide bags.
But at the same time, the point has been made that Davis residents are already doing much of this on their own. Even small businesses that would be exempt under the Natural Resources Commission Ordinance have told several that the vast majority of their customers do not ask for bags and do not want bags.
If that is the case, even extending the ordinance to all and applying it to all equally will probably have only a minimal impact on those businesses.
The one approach I do not like is Brett Lee’s proposal that we do not prohibit any bags, but rather charge for all bags. I do not believe people should have the ability to buy themselves out of environmental stewardship.
The idea that people are going to drive to Woodland or Dixon to do their shopping, over bags, is largely ludicrous and wasteful of gas and mileage on their car. Generally, you are looking at 30 to 50 cents per mile that the IRS allows people to take off, and that gives you a ballpark picture of how much it would cost, gas aside, to drive to Woodland or Dixon for shopping.
The costs in gas alone more than offset the inconvenience and added costs of plastic bags.
Bottom line, it is time for Davis to put up or shut up. As I wrote about a month ago, I do not fear and I even embrace the idea of putting the 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.
I have faith however, that the vast majority of Davis residents will support the plastic bag ordinance at the polls.
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?
—David M. Greenwald reporting