Why is Council Now Exempting Restaurants from Paper Bag Fee?

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reusable-bagWhen the Davis City Council eventually passed its single use bag ordinance, it had the option to exclude restaurants, but based in part on the issue of fairness, decided to include restaurants.

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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Why is Council Now Exempting Restaurants from Paper Bag Fee?”

  1. Tia Will

    “If I’m buying food in Davis, I guess I just don’t want to have the person in front of me 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.”

    I see this as yet another example of our City Council making a decision based on anecdotal evidence of potential harm rather than making an informed decision based on the evidence. The drive to demonize reusable bags as vectors of infectious disease is based on a few studies in which coliform bacteria were capable of being cultured from reusable bags. I would like to point out the coliform bacteria are able to be cultured from everyone’s hands including those of the individual cooking and bagging your food, from counters, from BART seats, door handles……
    This was not an evidence based decision, but was rather based on an “ick” factor and potentially by some private interests pushing for their own advantage. While I do not have strong feelings one way or the other about the bag ordinance, I would like to see decisions that have the potential to affect our community based on something a little stronger than a couple of headline grabbing news stories and someone’s arbitrary feelings about cleanliness.

  2. Barack Palin

    Good move by the council. If I go out to dinner or get takeout I shouldn’t have to pack a dirty reusable bag in my back pocket and put prepared food in a possibly dirty environment in order to save the paper bag fee.

    1. Davis Progressive

      it’s a horrible move. i understand from your narrow self-interested perspective, you don’t support the bag ban anyway, but it undermines the entire thing that they are doing. read janis lott’s comments if you still don’t get it.

      1. Barack Palin

        You got your way, the council gave into banning plastic bags and this is a sound move to allow people a free paper bag to bring their cooked food home in. It’s just a small compromise to make it a little more safe and convenient for people to take home prepared food. So I say to you David Progressive that it is you who has the narrow self-interested perspective by not being flexible for a small compromise.

        1. Davis Progressive

          why is it a sound move to allow people a free paper bag in this instance, but not in other similar instances? again, i point you to the comments made by janis lott.

          1. Barack Palin

            Because dirty reusable bags are brought into an environment where they’re actually preparing and serving your food. The dirty bags will be in contact with the table you eat at, if they take the reusable bag to a counter or a kitchen it might contaminate the counters, your server’s hands might get germs from them, etc. If I buy prepared food at a grocery store it is bagged at the cash rigister, not in the area where my food is made or served. Did you know you can no longer get bakery cooked peanut butter cookies from Nugget because they feel the peanuts would contaminate the counter where other baked goods are cooked.

          2. David Greenwald Post author

            “Did you know you can no longer get bakery cooked peanut butter cookies from Nugget because they feel the peanuts would contaminate the counter where other baked goods are cooked.”

            Did you know that kids can’t take peanut butter sandwiches to school because there are kids so allergic that they could die event from small levels of exposure? I believe you are talking about a different issue. There was nothing preventing the restaurants to preclude the use of reusable bags.

          3. Barack Palin

            “There was nothing preventing the restaurants to preclude the use of reusable bags.
            That’s just your opinion, the council felt differently.

          4. David Greenwald Post author

            That’s not an opinion, it is a fact. There was nothing preventing the restaurants. The difference of opinion was based on what to do with that particular fact.

        2. Tia Will

          BP

          “Because dirty reusable bags are brought into an environment where they’re actually preparing and serving your food”
          ” It’s just a small compromise to make it a little more safe ”

          Why do you make the assumption that the reusable bags are dirty ? I would be willing to stake my medical reputation that the reusable bags have less pathogenic bacteria or viruses on them than do the server’s hands.

          It may make it more convenient, but it does not make it even a little more safe.
          If you are worried that pathogenic bacteria may be introduced by touching something brought into an establishment by another customer, what you should be advocating for is for all employees who touch anything brought in by another customer including their money should have to wear disposable gloves which they change after every transaction. This would provide far more safety than worrying about potential bacteria on someone’s bag, and yet I doubt our local food providers would be excited about the costs of these gloves in order to protect their customers.

          This is not about safety. It is about a special dispensation for a given sector of our economy.

  3. Pingback: Why is Council Now Exempting Restaurants from Paper Bag Fee … | fast horses

  4. Tia Will

    BP

    “Good move by the council. If I go out to dinner or get takeout I shouldn’t have to pack a dirty reusable bag in my back pocket and put prepared food in a possibly dirty environment in order to save the paper bag fee.”

    Might not a reasonable alternative be for you to pack a clean re usable bag carried over your arm just as many do when going to farmer’s market. This seems like a very weak excuse, and demonstrated lack of personal responsibility to exempt an entire group of businesses from a regulation being imposed on others.

    Also, just a quick question about this since I was not watching the CC this week. Did Rochelle recuse herself from the vote ?

    1. Barack Palin

      TW
      “Might not a reasonable alternative be for you to pack a clean re usable bag carried over your arm”

      Yes, my bag might be clean but how do I know the other patron’s bags are clean?

      As Joe Krovoza rightly states:
      ““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.”

      1. Davis Progressive

        simple answer is employees wash their hands, which they have to do anyway. as janis pointed out, they’ve had this in place for six months in sf, and it’s not quite the crisis davis is making it out to be.

      2. Davis Progressive

        how is krovoza’s quote different from in a grocery store or as janis lott points out even in her store when confronted with a bag that no person would rightly want to touch – why is council bending over only on the issue of restaurants?

  5. Mr. Toad

    The council mentioned the owner of Dos Coyotes several times.

    I think the germ thing is more an excuse than a reason. They used to say the same thing about reusable bags at the grocery store. If you get something at the deli at the supermarket you can put it in your reusable bag so what is the big deal. In my opinion, Janice Lott was right to point out the inconsistency and Rochelle was right to pull it from the consent calendar and vote against the exemption.

  6. Themis

    “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.”

    This says it all! The exemption was because some one used their “first amendment” right to mold a law to suit their specific need vs what is best for the community as a whole.

    1. Barack Palin

      “This says it all! The exemption was because some one used their “first amendment” right to mold a law to suit their specific need vs what is best for the community as a whole.”

      Sounds like what the $15/hour advocates are doing.

      1. Themis

        Actually, just the opposite. The $15/ hour advocates are advocating for the betterment of the many, the prominent restaurateur was looking after his own self interest.

        1. Don Shor

          The $15/ hour advocates are advocating for the betterment of the many

          They may think they are, but the effect of the change would be improved income for those who already have jobs and job skills, and reduced job opportunities for those who do not have jobs or job skills. When you skew the market, there are winners and losers.

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