As the city notes, “All stores and restaurants located within the limits of the City of Davis that sell perishable or non-perishable goods. These include, but are not limited to, all grocery stores, convenience stores, minimarts, liquor stores, drug stores, restaurants and take-out food (i.e. fast food) establishments.”
All grocery stores and others that provide paper bags are required to charge ten cents per bag. However, as City Manager Steve Pinkerton explained, there were complaints from restaurateurs who believed that the proposal had unintended consequences.
As Mayor Joe Krovoza explained, the issue came up that if a “restaurant charges for a paper bag then that incentivizes his people to bring reusable bags into the restaurant.” He explained that in “the restaurant environment where they’re bagging up your food at the food counter, to have people handing over their own bags in the food environment to avoid the ten cent charge” creates a public issue because of the potential for the reusable bags to have contaminants that you would not want introduced into a food preparation environment.
By charging for paper bags, you incentivize people to bring in their reusable bags. Of course, there were other approaches here that may have created the same incentive structure, such as precluding reusable bags at restaurants.
As staff explains, the ordinance includes restaurants, take-out food establishments or “any other business that receives 90% or more of its revenue from the sale of Prepared Food to be eaten on or off its premises.”
They add, “The idea was to prohibit the use of the “Single-Use Plastic Carryout Bag” as defined in Section 32.05.01 (j), from being used for take-out food, not assess the Recycled Paper Bag Cost Pass-through” as stipulated Section 32.05.03, to each and every bag.”
The staff reports reads, “Restaurant owners notified the City that the inclusion of paper bag cost pass-through on restaurants that provide a paper bag for take-out food was overly inclusive and burdensome.”
Staff continues, “As such, staff has prepared an amendment to Section 32.05.04, Exemptions, to exempt these business of that burden. If Council approved the amendments, restaurants that provide take-out will be allowed to provide a paper bag free of charge to the customer.”
As Harriet Steiner explained, “All this does is do away with the ten cent charge for paper bags,” it is up for the individual decide how to handle leftovers. They still cannot use plastic bags.
As was explained to the Vanguard, this was a deal similar to that of the parking issue. The exemption to the plastic bag ordinance was specifically because one prominent restaurateur, with strong political ties to several on the council, cut a deal with council members and city staff to create the ordinance.
Janis Lott of Newsbeat, during public comment, would call this situation out. She pointed out that San Francisco enacted a similar ordinance last September and “I’m not hearing any reports about their concerns with health and safety issues.”
She pointed out, “The emphasis when this was first done was this is fair, we’re making a unanimous vote, we’re not going to phase in different businesses. But we’re going to do it across the board because it’s fair, fair, fair.”
“I’ve been functioning under that premise,” she said. “Then lo and behold, I feel like behind my back, yet again, people are kind of rallying and kind of taking care of their own nest and not thinking about the global picture.”
“For the public at large, I say, I think you had it right, I was not happy at the time. But I think you had it right because you were trying to make it fair,” she continued. “I do recognize that the food industry may have some extra challenges. We certainly have challenges if a random person throws a bag that I don’t really want to touch in my store too.”
“I do think you missed an opportunity to help shape that public point of view,” she said, explaining that this will confuse the public even more about the ordinance. “It is what it is, but I feel like I was baited and switched.”
Despite her comments, the council made a motion to pass the ordinance made by Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and seconded by Mayor Joe Krovoza.
Mayor Krovoza responded, “If I’m buying food in Davis, I guess I just don’t want to have the person in front of me with the incentive to bring a foreign object into the food environment and be asking the food server to use that bag to put food in, and then after that be bagging my food. I think there is a legitimate reason for the exception here.”
Rochelle Swanson, who pulled the item off consent, also voted against the exemption.
—David M. Greenwald reporting