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Santa Rosa unwilling to cede to county plastic bag ban ... yet

  • Briana Fernandez loads groceries into the back of her vehicle after shopping in Rohnert Park in 2008. (PD FILE, 2008)

A turf war has broken out in Santa Rosa over a proposed county bag ban.

The City Council found itself torn Tuesday between those supporting a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags and those who don't want to relinquish the city's regulatory powers to another agency.

Backers of the ban argued that it would be more environmentally effective, would create consistent regulations preferred by retailers and residents, and held little downside for the city.

“I do not hear that our concerns about local control outweigh our responsibilities as an environmental leader in this community,” Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom said.

But city staff expressed unease with the measure, which the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency has been crafting for more than two years.

If the city adopted the ban, it would be unable to change the rules, such as cost of paper bags or fines for local retailers, without the approval of other members of the joint powers authority created in 1992 to increase recycling efforts in Sonoma County and its nine cities.

“It's a question of whether you wish to give up your authority,” City Attorney Caroline Fowler said.

Councilman Jake Ours urged his fellow council members to heed those concerns and hold out for a solution that achieves everyone's goals but maintains the city's independence.

“I know everybody thinks that we're going to kill something but we're not, what we're doing is really protecting something,” Ours said.

The debate was reminiscent of the power struggle the city engaged in earlier this year with Sonoma County over the formation of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority. In that case, the city's size gave it clout it used to negotiate substantial changes to the authority's structure. The waste management agency is far smaller entity responsible for coordinating recycling efforts.

While the issue split the council, members of the public were united. All speakers expressed a strong desire to see the city back the countywide ban.

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