The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted down a motion to contribute $15,000 toward an Environmental Impact Report on banning single-use plastic bags in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in its meeting this past week.
The Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment, a cross-jurisdictional agency for the protection of Santa Barbara and Ventura county beaches, proposed the motion in order to evaluate the ecological impact of a ban on single-use plastic bags, which are commonly used in grocery stores. On Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to continue their support for implementing an EIR but failed to endorse the project’s required $15,000.
According to Salud Carbajal, First District Supervisor and B.E.A.C.O.N. chairman, the report would require approximately $60,000 in total, $15,000 of which B.E.A.C.O.N. sought to obtain through a contribution from the board.
While only three members were in favor of funding the program, Carbajal said the entire board is supportive of performing the EIR.
“The board did approve conducting an Environmental Impact Report of a ban on single-use bags for the entire region that is Santa Barbara County,” Carbajal said. “But we failed to get four votes, a simple majority vote, to expend $15,000 towards the development of the EIR.”
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray said while she supported an overall ban, individual county legislatures must focus on other financial obligations besides funding the EIR.
“I am voting against this because I believe this should be a statewide issue and not done jurisdiction by jurisdiction,” Gray said. “I would be in favor of a ban on plastic bags, but first we have to get organized. Also, some think $15,000 is not much, but I want to be able to keep funding programs that are helping people right now.”
According to B.E.A.C.O.N. Program Manager Gerald Comati, a ban would help alleviate the serious environmental risks — including blocking storm drains, threatening coastal birds and harming fish — presented by disposable plastic bags.
“In the United States, 150 billion bags are used every year. A lot of it unfortunately ends up on our streets, beaches and ultimately the ocean,” Comati said. “It is a significant issue worldwide.”
Alternately, Coalition for Labor, Agriculture and Business Executive Director Andy Caldwell said the EIR is an unnecessary burden on companies and consumers alike.
“We already have exceeding recycling standards from the state of California,” Caldwell said. “The EIR is just a way to limit people’s freedom and charge more money from them and create more hassle.”
However, according to Comati, the California Supreme Court has previously mandated EIRs in larger municipalities such as Santa Barbara as a way to account for all parties involved.
Penny Owens, the education and community outreach coordinator for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, said plastic bags were the most common waste item removed during the organization’s volunteer cleanups.
According to Owens, the Channelkeeper’s “Where’s Your Bag?” campaign distributed over 10,000 reusable bags as alternatives to plastic but has yet to see a significant amount of support from local businesses.
Isla Vista Food Co-op floor manager James McCarthy said the local grocer has already eliminated plastic bags from their store.
“We’ve actually got rid of plastic bags and have only been using paper bags, and it’s worked really well,” McCarthy said. “People have been receptive to bringing their own bags.”
According to Carpinteria City Council member Joe Armendariz, a ban on plastic bags would affect the county’s wide array of businesses in various ways.
“I think B.E.A.C.O.N. really needs to partner with local business communities, especially those ‘mom and pop’ stores that are undercapitalized and cannot weather these sorts of regulations that large businesses can,” Armendariz said.