Environmental groups as well as some Westside neighborhood councils have applauded the Los Angeles City Council’s May 23 vote to prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags, an effort that had been underway for several months.

The council voted 13-1 in favor of a motion that will allow retailers to sell customers a paper bag for 10 cents but will effectively outlaw plastic and force shoppers to bring reusable bags.

Westside environmental organizations like Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay have been pushing the council to ban plastic bags for several years before the May 23 vote.

“We are absolutely thrilled and we applauded the Los Angeles City Council for taking action against plastic bags,” said Heal the Bay Coastal Resources Director Sarah Sikich. “Now that they have taken action, one quarter of Californians will live in a state that does not sell single- use plastic bags.”

The council’s action makes it the nation’s largest municipality to prohibit the sale of plastic.

City officials will conduct an environmental review and draft an ordinance banning the synthetic before the prohibition is enacted.

Larger grocery chains will have six months to comply with the new law and small stores will be given a year once the ordinance is in place.

Mar Vista Community Council Green Committee Co-Chair Sherri Akers sees this outcome as a template for various organizations and agencies of government working together on a common goal.

“This is an exciting example of collaboration between environmental organizations and neighborhood and community councils and our civic leaders,” Akers said.

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) applauded the City Council’s actions.

“The city of Los Angeles made the right decision to side with our environment and encourage healthy communities by banning single-use plastic bags,” the assemblywoman said in a statement. “By joining 48 other California municipalities in adopting a plastic bag ordinance, Los Angeles became the largest city to make the important statement of protecting our coastal environment.

“This is incredibly important to the vitality of our region because plastic bags are literally everywhere: our neighborhoods, parks, beaches and waterways and are a menace to marine life causing countless marine animal deaths every year.”

The Mar Vista Community Council was one of the first local neighborhood councils to take action on plastic bags. In December 2010, the board approved a motion that was sent to the City Council recommending the synthetic material’s prohibition.

Former Mar Vista Community Council member Andy Shrader led the movement to convince his local council to consider the motion, and Akers said his work with other neighborhood councils created a grassroots groundswell on the Westside, where communitywide support of sustainable measures already exists.

“Each (Los Angeles) City Council member received a motion of support from one or more neighborhoods in their district,” she said.

Shrader, who is now City Councilman Paul Koretz’s deputy of environmentalaffairs and sustainability, credited the council with voting for the ban in the face of what he and others call an intense effort by lobby groups that oppose banning the synthetic bags.

“I’m thrilled that, despite a massive lobby and misinformation effort by the plastics industry, the Los Angeles City Council stuck to their principles and finally moved forward to ban plastic bags, a move which, for a city of nearly 3.8 million people, could remove 2.28 trillion bags per year from the waste stream,” he said.

“This huge Los Angeles grassroots movement – from neighborhood councils to environmental and social justice groups – to protect our struggling ocean gives me hope that people are waking up, getting involved in their government, making their voices heard, and saying to corporate polluters, ‘Enough is enough!’”

Akers also sees this effort as an example of how the local council network, created over a decade ago by the city charter, can work in unison with the city’s governing body.

“This is the way it’s supposed to work and this is the beauty of the neighborhood council system,” she added.

“We were able to bring an issue to the community, receive their input and represent them with our city leaders.”

Cheryl Burnett, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, thinks the public’s views on not being able to have plastic bags in grocery stores will change, as they have in other parts of the world where consumers tend to use reusable bags.

“People will adjust, just as they have in over 45 municipalities and as they have in Europe and in Asia,” said Burnett, a Playa del Rey resident who once lived in England and sought to bring a similar measure before her local council recently.

“I’m very pleased that the City Council passed this and people will find another way to transport their groceries.”

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose 11th District is largely coastal, called passing the motion a “no-brainer” and thinks the lobbying efforts by neighborhood councils and environmental groups was a factor in the council’s decision.

“It reached a critical point that they could appreciate what is at stake and that allowed us to take action on this issue,” the councilman said after the vote.

After hearing public testimony, Rosendahl recalled the Assembly’s decision not to pass a statewide ban two years ago, which led to individual municipalities passing their own measures. “Sacramento didn’t provide the leadership that they should have,” the councilman told the City Hall audience. “They crumbled.

“I don’t want to stall this any longer,” he continued. “We need to start cleaning up our streets and our waterways, which are littered with plastic.”

Organizations like the American Chemical Council have steadfastly opposed municipal bans on plastic.

“This new bag ban is an expensive mandate the city and taxpayers cannot afford,” states a Western Plastics Association website developed with the assistance of the chemical council.

“At a time when the city is passing drastic cuts to police, fire and parks to address multi-million dollar budget shortfalls, creating another taxpayer-funded government bureaucracy is bad policy for the city. Are we really going to spend tax dollars on creating ‘bag police’ to enforce the ban at a time when real police officers are being laid off?”

Sikich realizes that companies, trade groups and organizations affiliated with the plastic industry have powerful lobbyists but feels that the momentum is shifting.

“We’re still fighting an uphill battle, but I think with the groundswell of support that we have from local governments, it’s a different atmosphere now,” she said.

Rosendahl thinks the importance of being the nation’s largest city moving to prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags will reverberate throughout the state and perhaps the nation.

“This could very likely have a ripple effect across the entire state and maybe the entire country,” the councilman predicted. “Once other cities see this, it could give them the momentum that they need to ban things that are polluting our waterways, beaches and streets.”

City officials anticipate a six month review of the plastic bag EIR before the ordinance will take effect.

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