Plastic bag ban heads to Malibu City Council

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Council to make commission appointments.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The City Council will consider a proposal at its meeting on Monday to ban the use of non-decomposable plastic bags at grocery stores and other businesses, as well as at city events. All five council members are already on record supporting the legislation, so passage is expected.

Former Planning Commissioner John Sibert brought the idea for the ban to the council’s attention during a meeting last fall before he announced his candidacy for council.

Malibu Environmental Programs Coordinator Jennifer Voccola wrote the staff report for the proposed ordinance.

“Empty plastic bags, due to their lightweight and inflatable characteristics, are often windblown and pollute the local creeks, ocean and storm drain system,” Voccola wrote. “They entangle in landscaping (including trees and coastal brush), litter parks and beaches, and are unsightly along roads’ rights-of-way.”

Voccola also wrote that plastic bags are problematic because they smother and prevent growth of vegetation, and birds and aquatic animals mistake them for food, risking suffocation while trying to consume them.

There is no known opponent to the proposed ban.

After conducting an initial study for the proposal last year, the city received letters of encouragement from the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the environmental organization Heal the Bay, which also wants the city to require retailers to charge a fee for the use of paper bags.

State Assembly Bill 2449, which was passed last year, requires certain stores to offer recycling programs for its plastic bags. But it also prohibited charging fees for the use of plastic bags. Voccola said the city is still looking into how this would affect charging a fee for paper bags.

The proposal only bans non-decomposable plastic bags, which is what most retailers use. The council has the option to extend the prohibition to decomposable bags as well. Voccola made no recommendation on this issue, although she wrote non-decomposable bags need a properly maintained compost facility to biodegrade, something that does not exist in the area.

“There are mixed opinions on the effectiveness of these bags biodegrading in the marine environment, as they need higher temperatures to properly break down,” Voccola wrote. “Most believe that they will not break down quickly enough in the marine environment to avoid impacts to wildlife.”

Voccola’s report states that paper bags have less impact on the environment, but she also encourages people to use reusable bags, which she wrote “have been found to have the least overall environmental impact.”

If approved, the ordinance would go into effect in six months for grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities. After a year, it would apply to all other retailers and vendors.

Council to make commission appointments

Also on Monday, the council members will make appointments to various commissions. Each council member appoints one person to the four commissions: Parks and Recreation, Planning, Public Safety and Public Works. The Mobilehome Park Rent Stabilization Commission rarely meets, and the city staff has recommended the council vote to keep the commission with its current members. The council will make appointments to the Harry Barovsky Memorial Youth Commission in June.

Newly elected Council-member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner and Sibert will be making their first appointments. Those commissioners serving under Conley Ulich, who was reelected last month, could be reappointed for a second term or she could select new people. The appointees of Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern and Councilmember Sharon Barovsky keep their posts until 2010. The exception to this is Barovksy’s appointment to the Planning Commission, which had been Sibert.

City law allows any commissioner to be fired at any time by a council member without explanation.

The most anticipated appointments are for the Planning Commission, which finalizes most permit approvals unless they are appealed to the City Council or California Coastal Commission. No council member has said who will be appointed. There has been speculation that Wagner will appoint former City Council candidate John Mazza, who regularly attends most Planning Commission and City Council meetings in opposition to proposed projects. Wagner is out of town this week and could not be reached for comment. Mazza declined comment.

The council on Monday will also vote on a request for proposal document for a consultant to draft an environmental impact report for a proposed plan to develop the 24-acre vacant property just west of Bluffs Park known as the Crummer property. The proposal is for five homes and the donation of land to the city for a possible ball field.