Save the Plastic Bag Coalition spokesperson Stephen Joseph argued Santa Barbara's proposed bag ban was wholly unnecessary

Paul Wellman

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition spokesperson Stephen Joseph argued Santa Barbara's proposed bag ban was wholly unnecessary

City Council Enacts Plastic Bag Ban

Ordinance Goes Into Effect In Six Months

Originally published 5:30 p.m., October 1, 2013
Updated 12:00 a.m., October 2, 2013
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The Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-to-0 to pass an ordinance banning plastic grocery bags from distribution within city limits and imposing a 10¢ fee on shoppers for each paper bag they are given instead. The idea behind the new ordinance — which goes into effect in two stages — is to promote the use of reusable shopping bags. Six months from now, large grocery stores and pharmacies — 10,000 square feet or bigger — will be required to implement the new regulations. There are about 20 of those in town. Six months afterward, the ordinance will extend to about 64 smaller outlets that sell food.

The measure was passed over the strenuous and at times vituperative objections of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, whose spokesperson Stephen Joseph contended the ordinance was utterly unnecessary because there is no evidence that plastic bag litter posed a threat to Santa Barbara’s aesthetic sensibilities, let alone to its waterfront. He dismissed claims that plastic bags kill marine life, arguing that recent studies have documented the deaths of only seven fish and one bird at the hands of sea-born plastic bags, far less carnage than can be found in the frozen seafood section of any supermarket.

He lambasted as “terrible” the environmental report documenting the impact of the ban, arguing that it grossly understated the spike in paper bag consumption the ordinance would engender. “It’s the same old spin and misinformation,” he said. Joseph denounced the environmental review process because he was not sent a draft of the final report until a day after the Santa Barbara Planning Commission had approved it. (He had recently moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles.) He noted how two members of the Planning Commission had blasted the environmental report as “spin,” though only one voted against certification.

Councilmember Dale Francisco
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Councilmember Dale Francisco

But Joseph ultimately proved no match for the coalition of environmental organizations — the Community Environmental Council, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, and Save the Mermaids — who’ve been lobbying the council off and on since 2007 in favor of such a ban. Their advocates argued that because plastic bags don’t dissolve in the ocean, but rather break down into tiny specks of micro-trash, they pose a threat to fish, sea birds, and sea mammals. One Surfrider Foundation representative said he had encountered a dead cormorant in just the past week with a plastic bag wrapped around its neck. Likewise, the environmental activists argued that during various beach cleanup days they sponsor, plastic bags rank in the top five or six kinds of trash left or tossed on the beach. Cigarette butts, it turns out, invariably rank first, followed by various forms of hard plastics.

Kathie King with the Community Environmental Council noted that Santa Barbara city residents use 47 million plastic bags a year. She acknowledged that many of those bags are reused multiple times — to line trash cans and pick up dog poop — but noted, “We don’t have 47 million dogs.” Likewise, she took exception to Joseph’s argument that most people use reusable bags a handful of times before throwing them out. Leaving the podium, she held her personal reusable bag high in the air, declaring, “This is my bag which I keep in my purse. I’ve used it twice a week for the past four years.” Nor did it hurt the bag ban cause any that the California Grocery Association — which represents the state’s biggest chains — has not only endorsed the proposed ban, but consistently lobbied on its behalf. Its representative, Sarah Sheehy, said that supermarkets have experienced a 94 percent drop in plastic bag ban use in communities that have enacted bans. Where Joseph claimed a Santa Monica study showed a 30 percent increase in paper bag use, Sheehy insisted paper bag consumption increased only briefly after bans were passed and then returned to pre-ban levels.

Councilmember Bendy White expressed great frustration that the State Legislature never tackled the issue and left it up to cities and counties throughout California to waste “a lot of time, energy, and creativity” devising piecemeal solutions. When the Santa Barbara ban was first proposed in 2007, only San Francisco had one. Now, 60 more cities throughout the state have adopted one. City Hall tried an educational outreach campaign to get consumers to change their habits but found only limited success. Joseph has fought bans up and down the state in court, successfully arguing that they required environmental analysis to be passed.

When the council contemplated the $66,000 price tag of such a report, the effort nearly died. But Councilmember Grant House devised a cost-sharing scheme with seven other coastal cities in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and the price tag for Santa Barbara shrank dramatically. More strategically, the report could be used by any government in the two counties as the basis to enact bans of their own. To date, the City of Santa Barbara is the first to approve the EIR and the ordinance language, but the County of Santa Barbara is currently in the process of drafting a very similar measure, and activists are pushing the City of Goleta to begin the process, as well. The City of Carpinteria passed a much more restrictive measure two years ago but has since suffered legal setbacks in the courts.

Frank Hotchkiss was dubious of the bag ban and its accompanying environmental report, but gave his approval nonetheless
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Frank Hotchkiss was dubious of the bag ban and its accompanying environmental report, but gave his approval nonetheless

Even Santa Barbara council conservatives Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss — both of whom expressed keen skepticism about the ordinance and the underlying environmental report — gave their approval. Francisco said he agreed that the environmental report was deeply flawed but voted to approve it nonetheless, arguing it was no worse than most such reports. He said the regional approach saved City Hall $58,000, and because of that he voted for it. As for Councilmember House, now in the waning twilight of his council career, he took pains to “appreciate” everyone who partook of the discussion, including Joseph, of whom House said, “Hey, he’s just doing his job.”

Councilmember Cathy Murillo was far more pointed, saying Joseph had no one but himself to blame for not knowing when the Planning Commission deliberations took place. “If you didn’t do your job,” she said, “it’s not our fault.” Councilmember Randy Rowse recused himself from the deliberations, declaring that because his wife distributed free reusable cotton bags to raise awareness for a nonprofit dedicated to keeping teens clean and sober, he had a conflict of interest.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

If the Santa Barbara City Council REALLY cares about keeping plastic bags out of the ocean then they should have all the Waterfront trash cans emptied on a daily basis. We've all seen these trash cans overflowing and then invaded by the gulls and homeless. Once the contents are scattered on the ground it's just a small breeze away from ending in our ocean.

mars (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2013 at 8:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So happy to see a unanimous decision by the City Council on this issue. I can't tell you how often I have picked up a plastic bag blowing across the sand on West Beach or flying in the wind as I walk down State Street. Santa Barbara is the soul of the environmental movement and it is only appropriate that we take this small step to insure that our community is healthy for the critters that call this place home.

sallyt (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2013 at 9:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

47 million plastic bags used in SB this past year alone. What a waste it's been.

I watched the Council vote ... Pretty sleazy of Dale Francisco, insinuating he should get all the credit for enlisting BEACON to do the EIR and have local municipalities share the cost. Anyone following this issue knows the positive force behind that has been Grant House.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2013 at 10:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Now that we have the important issue behind us we can work on less important things like the garbage that is downtown and the infiltration of zombie homeless and gangs. At least i wont see a bag next to the next human turd i see downtown, lol.

DBD (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2013 at 11:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Help me write to Santa Barbara city council that the bag ban and fee are ill advised. The city should ask other cities that have adopted the bans earlier for litter and economy audits before and after. Then, it will be clear to city if the ban works. .

You want to watch this movie:

Then, come to: -- 8/13 to read and to watch page.

The ban and fee are bad for:
- businesses: to bag customers purchases is the least of customer services that retailers should provide, especially when it come to discretionary shopping, which is for fun. If it is no fun anymore, why shop? All stores can close, we can all go home!

- residents: Many of us use plastic bags for trash and pet waste. Without them, we will have to buy the much thicker and bigger trash bags. Why is the later better?

- for environment. Plastic bags are the by-product of natural gas, not oil. And they take little to make. Verses paper bags which come from trees. From logging, debarking, chop & dice, add water to make pulp, squeeze water out and flatten to make paper, the whole process takes much more resources and energy and create more greenhouse gases. Why is paper better?

Save a tree! Use a plastic bag!
Buy 1000 plastic bags from Amazon for $20. Never run out of trash bags.
Fold and bring a few with you. They come in handy.

foxyg (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2013 at 11:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hemlockroid (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 7:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Glad this passed and moved forward but it is more than time for the city, the Parks Department, to provide dog poop bags in the city parks as the Waterfront does at the waterfront. Especially they will be needed when there are no longer free plastic bags available; funding has increased so there is no excuse to not empty the trash barrels and not provide pickup bags.

Also: White's peroration was ridiculous, sounding like the first step towards running for the Assembly. And what's with Murillo's nastiness, personal attacks on speakers she disagrees with?

at_large (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 7:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Well if Mr. Joseph was a gang member or a member of one of her feel good organizations, I am sure Murillo would have been much nicer to him.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 9:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I see a lot of litter, but practically no plastic bags. Another misguided law sponsored by the environazis. Spend the money on enforcement of anti-litter laws.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 9:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

White's peroration was a little clumsy ... but he did nail it when he said the State Legislature should have lead on this, rather than have every municipality in the state enacting their own law.

Murillo was quite right in her comments .. the City isn't responsible if Mr. Joseph moved and couldn't find his forwarded mail, or couldn't use the City's website to figure out when meetings are scheduled. I thought her comment about the "Save the Asbestos Coalition" was pretty funny ... the time does come when certain items outlive their usefulness.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 9:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Waiting for the important "free cotton bags" correction. Thanks Nick!

jrowse (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mermaid images please. I don't want to see photos of Dale Francisco or Frank Hotchkiss. We want pictures of the mermaids!

BongHit (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Councilmember Randy Rowse recused himself from the deliberations, declaring that because his wife distributed reusable cotton bags to raise awareness for a nonprofit dedicated to keeping teens clean and sober, he had a conflict of interest."

Why is this a conflict except in the weenie imaginings of Randy Rowse?
No financial nexus there, so no conflict except for Rowse wanting to avoid a tough vote.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

On the beach I routinely pickup glass beer, wine and hard liquor bottles, broken glass bottles, aluminum beer cans, plastic ( non grocery bags), mylar balloons, flip flop's, dog poo bags and miscellaneous trash. The most prominent trash is alcohol containers left by the young people attending our local houses of higher education.

I think it great to not use plastic grocery bags, my household does not, but question a ban as the solution.

Oh now that lobster season has begun, polypropylene rope from traps that were poorly set and the surf has already ripped up the traps and deposited the rope on the beach.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

thank you howgreen...Lobster traps are a joke and the accountability these guys have for stuff washing up and or them cleaning up the infinite amount of traps they can put out is ridiculous. The whole "you can deploy them but not bait them for 3 days prior".... LOL! Laughable. Is that rule really enforced?

Sadly these traps wash up all over the place when the waves get big. not sure if there is a identifying number on the traps or just the floats. I think they should have to pick them up instead of hoping the ocean will eventually "biodegrade" them.

bimboteskie (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So glad to see that this council has their priorities straight and never fail to find new ways to make people's lives harder.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 11:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks, Kathy King, for raising the issue of dogpoop. You're right, SB doesn't have 47 million dogs. But let's assume that 10% of SBarbarians have a dog (Animal Shelter folk: help out here). That's 9,000 (city limits only). Each one poops twice a day if observations of people walking dogs on my street are representative. That's 365*2*9,000=6.57 million poops. If owners used a plastic bag to pick it up (if only...) that'd be 6.57 million bagsful of poop to the landfill (otherwise it's 6.57 million poops to the ocean). And didn't the Creeks Initiative some years ago already tote up this dogpoop issue and come up with the muttmitt kiosks?

Then there's Kathy's garbage can liners (10% of city pop. times 2x/week times 52 weeks/yr) and that's another 0.936 million bags. So the uses noted by KK amount to about 7.5 million bags (with some assumptions about percentages), a not insignificant 16% of those 47 million bags. Not comin' down on either side, here, just some numbers to think about...

oblio (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 11:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Trader Joe's doesn't use plastic bags and everyone is fine with it. Costco doesn't use ANY bags and everyone is fine with it. Macy's and all the other dept. and clothing stores don't use the cheap fly away plastic bags and everyone is fine with it. I predict life as we know it will continue on just fine without the plastic bags that have outlived their value. And hopefully I won't be seeing them blow around the streets of downtown anymore.

Ryansbca (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 11:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

there's biodegradable dog poop bag dispensers all over the county. i could name a dozen off the top of my head in isla vista alone. every city/county/state park has them. i love how posters like foxyg, who are supporting the use of plastic bags, only have one post and joined yesterday. who's paying you to troll on behalf of the plastic bag companies, foxyg?

StockiestCastle (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 2:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

banning the bag will help, only a little. People are uneducated and choose to dump where they feel like. People will continue to dump with little thought given to where it ends up. Heck, maybe it'll come in handy next time I'm stranded on a desert island. What a great sidetrack of local politics news though! So much passion about, bags.

spacey (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I was just out walking my dog and picked up two fugitive plastic bags blowing around on the street, the same kind of bags that Frank Hotchkiss says are not there.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 10:21 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Reusable bags are the best way to start your journey of forming new environmentally friendly habits. No you’re not going to solve all of the environmental issues by ditching plastic bags, but this small step will lead to more environment friendly habits. I struggled when I decided to give up plastic bags in 2009, but instead of giving up I got innovative and created a better reusable bag to help me form those better habits. I used to forget my bags or never have enough. My solution, I created the Double Stax ( If you struggle with remembering your bags, or not having enough for all your stuff, you’ll want to see how the Double Stax can help you on your journey to being a better steward of the Earth.

DoubleStax (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 2:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't know who John Adams really is, but I am Janet Rowse, the co-founder of SafeLaunch, the nonprofit organization that is providing the Cotton Grocery Bag Service at Lazy Acres Market with the help of Ablitt's Cleaners.

Our service provides the best alternative to plastic, paper, and reusable woven polypropylene bags: locally made cotton bags that customers borrow (like a Zipcar). They are provided free to Lazy Acres shoppers and paid for by our business partners and sponsors.

To learn more about SafeLaunch Cotton Bags or our mission to prevent addiction, go to

jrowse (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2013 at 3:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That's nice, jrowse, and we all look forward to current city council member Randy Rowse recusing himself on many, many more city council actions that really do have a financial conflict of interest for him via his restaurant/saloon business.

PS, nice advertisement here for your own business. Will you be buying some real ads in the Indy next?

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 8:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So business people should not be on Council? Can't have an objective opinion? Instead we get lifelong gov drones who never had to make a payroll or a profit? No, thanks.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Objectivity like Dale Francisco who supports a theocratic police state? Potemkinesque candidates like Hotchkiss? Who do you think you're fooling "JohnLocke"? Get off (don't fall off) your high horse, the lack of oxygen is crippling your brain.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 1:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

ahh, welcome back to the real KV! Ban plastic bags!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 3:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

John_Adams: Re paid ads for this J&R Rowse enterprise - I figure an appointment to the SB city council rather than the next runner-up, in violation of the City Charter, ensures career immunity from conflict of interest charges. However, in 2009, when many Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse employees and board member Janet Rowse lobbied extensively against Prop 19 and medical cannabis dispensaries in violation of federal law for public non-profits I think CADA did add paid advertising to its free disinformation on killer weed.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 5:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Mermaid images please. I don't want to see photos of Dale Francisco or Frank Hotchkiss. We want pictures of the mermaids!

BongHit (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2013 at 10:02 a.m

Why is Mr. Joseph blowing his nose? Doing so makes him look silly, and you cannot be taken seriously if you are a silly one. Mermaids and dolphins, but for mermaids U have 2 go to Solvang to see the mermaid fountain.

Since you mentions mermaids, here is a song by the Murmaids (sic) a one-hit wonder. Trivia: The song was written by David Gates, who was the lead singer and lead songwriter of the group Bread, who were popular in the early 1970's.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 6:29 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DId I mention that Joseph looks a litte like Henry Kissinger?

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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