Referendum to appeal statewide law prompts concern among public



It is not often — most likely unprecedented — that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is addressed by a woman garbed in a costume made entirely of plastic bags.

Approaching the podium in a shaggy coat of crinkling plastic at the board’s Tuesday meeting, the self-proclaimed “Bag Monster” expressed her mock appreciation to the board for not pursuing a local plastic bag ban ordinance in light of the recent challenge to the statewide ban.

“I’m here to thank you for backing down on pursuing a plastic bag ban in Humboldt County,” the woman said to the board. “I’ve been feeling increasingly unwelcome here, and it’s wonderful to be reassured that I have a safe place in which to run free. There are so many places in California I’m not allowed to go. ... It’s good to know I have friends in high places in Humboldt County.”

The “Bag Monster” traveled to the meeting along with Northcoast Environmental Center Coastal Programs Director and Humboldt Surfrider Foundation Chairwoman Jennifer Savage to address a resolution pulled from the board’s consent calendar, which supports the recently passed statewide plastic bag ban under Senate Bill 270.


The board’s resolution urges “all businesses within the unincorporated area of the county to implement measures to reduce the usage of single-use plastic bags by their customers” and expresses the board’s intention “to revisit the issue of a ban on single-use plastic bags in the unincorporated area of the county” should SB 270 be overturned by a referendum poised for the 2016 ballot.

Savage told the board that many local bag ban ordinances have already been passed across the state — including the ban in Arcata that took effect nearly one year ago — that have been proven to work, to save money and protect the environment.

“Given what’s happened at the state level, I think it is imperative that Humboldt County does move forward with an actual ordinance banning single use plastic bags,” she said. “... I would hate to see Humboldt County fail to take this very simple and easy step that is so broadly supported.”

SB 270, introduced by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla when he was still a senator, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September and was set to take effect on July 1. However, a bag industry backed organization known as the American Progressive Bag Alliance announced near the end of December that it had gathered more than 800,000 signatures — more than the required 504,760 signatures — to qualify a referendum for the November 2016 ballot to overturn the ban.

The Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday afternoon that a bag ban advocacy group has now filed a complaint to the state Attorney General against the referendum, claiming that the American Progressive Bag Alliance’s paid signature gatherers mislead voters by making them think they were signing to preserve the ban as well as referring to SB 270 as a tax.

County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said that should the referendum fail, the current ban will take effect immediately or after the results are certified.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said he is sure that the referendum will not pass in 2016.

“This is no longer something that is controversial,” he said. “More than 20 percent of all jurisdictions in the state of California have some kind of ordinance or ban already in place.”

Lovelace said that by the time a local ordinance is worked out and adopted, it will only be effective for about a year before being outmoded by SB 270.

“It really comes down to that gap that we’re looking at,” he said. “Perhaps a year.”

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said that he supports the resolution even though he disagrees with some of the state law’s provisions, including the allowance for grocers to charge up to 10 cents to customers per paper or reusable bag.

“It’s not the use of the plastic bags that’s the problem,” he said. “It’s the misuse. ... It’s peoples’ habits that we have to change.”

The board approved the resolution in a 4-0 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass absent.

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