S. Tahoe council refuses to ban plastic bags


By Kathryn Reed

South Lake Tahoe’s proposed plastic bag ban is in the garbage – for now.

The council on a 3-0 vote (Councilwoman Angela Swanson was absent) decided to not adopt an ordinance that would have banned plastic bags at stores throughout the city. They were not convinced of the environmental need in Tahoe or why they would want to legislate morality.

Plastic is allowed in South Lake Tahoe.

The city’s Sustainability Commission brought the idea forward after it had been discussed for more than three years. At the same Jan. 22 meeting, the council did away with the commission. That decision was initially proposed in the fall. Now the commission must decide if it wants to remain intact as a committee.

As for the plastic bags, it’s not that the council doesn’t want to help the environment, but the three had issues with various components of the proposal.

“I would like the stores to decide if they want to charge for paper,” Councilman Hal Cole said.

The proposal was to charge 10 cents per paper bag.

Kay Ogden, a member of the Sustainability Commission, said there are legal reasons for needing to have a fee associated with the paper if plastic were banned.

City Attorney Patrick Enright said changing the wording from “shall” to “may” for the paper fee would also trigger more CEQA analysis. As written, South Lake Tahoe’s proposal got by the California Environmental Quality Act with a categorical ban.

The bags used for produce and meat would have been exempt. And plastic of a certain thickness are considered reusable.

But Councilwoman JoAnn Conner says she and many of her friends reuse the plastic bags groceries come in.

The EPA says 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled. The Sustainability Commission says 8 million single use plastic bags are used in South Tahoe each year.

Ogden along with Juliana Prosperi said the plastic bag ban would help Tahoe businesses. Their presentation said it is estimated $200 a year in state and federal taxes are spent per person to clean up litter and waste associated with single use bags.

“In all of your documents you talk about cost savings, but I don’t see it,” Mayor Tom Davis said.

His biggest issue was with the potential bacteria growing in reusable canvas bags if people aren’t regularly washing them. He cited a study that says 97 percent of people don’t wash their bags.

Davis said he would prefer the plastic bag issue be resolved at the state level. In California, 60 cities and eight counties have adopted plastic bag bans, according to Ogden.

Everyone agreed educating the consumer about perceived and real harms of plastic bags needs to be done so more people would voluntarily use something other than a one-time plastic bag.



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Comments (45)
  1. Sheila White says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    We change littering behaviors with our Litter Prevention Program. Our website is a free resource.
    Bag fees do reduce the proliferation of plastic. In Toronto, Canada, where a five-cent bag fee was tried for a time, the number of plastic bags was reduced by half. The city council will look at plastic bags again later in 2013.

  2. VT2Tahoe says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    I’ve been using reusable bags for years. The kind that feel like a parachute and stuff into tiny sacks are great and fit anywhere. My home-away-from-home San Luis Obispo in California recently banned all plastic and charges 10 cents for paper. The town has embraced it and it’s basically a BYOB town. I will either buy a paper bag for raw meat to keep out of my reusable bags and cut down on bacteria or wash my bags more frequently. It’s really not that hard people.

  3. Frank Aquilina says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Politicians crack me up. I am owner and operator of Aquilina Hardwood Floor, my name is Frank. For the last month, I’ve given away about a thousand reusable bags. They’re great for groceries or anything else you would put in a paper or plastic bag, they actually hold far more. I have a few hundred left. Anyone who wants one or two, call me (530) 318-7404 they’re free I just want to make it easy for people to have them. Cheers

  4. Dogula says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Glad the council was sensible about this. It’s really not as if plastic bags are a huge problem here. Most folks are pretty conscious in this town, and we don’t have thousands of trash bags floating around in the wind. Except on trash day, when they fly out of the tops of the garbage trucks. . .
    But seriously, in some places I could see it. Here, those of us who take the bags usually have alternate uses for them, and I’d say about 1/3 of the population already uses their own reusable bags voluntarily. Doesn’t look like we need the hassle and expense of legislation.

  5. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    I use both reusable clothe bags as well as plastic. Both types can be used and reused for all kinds of things.
    Lisa at Luckys years ago subtely hinted maybe I should wash my canvas bags. I did and after pulling them out of the dryer…Shrinkage! But I still use them.
    I won’t comment on plastic bags flying out of garbage trucks other than to say
    “I’m guilty as charged”.
    Thanks Frank for the offer of free bags, may just take you up on that offer.
    Take Care, Old Saggy Bags

  6. DAVID DEWITT says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Do we not have more pressing problems than plastic bags????

  7. Steve says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Enforce the plastic bag ban for vacation renters only. Problem solved.

  8. Jennifer says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    I was there at the meeting. It was as if our council had never heard of a re-usable grocery bag before. They asked questions about how they were going to throw away dirty diapers and how would we prevent all of the people that are going to get e-coli from using their grocery bags multiple times.
    Once again it is displayed loud and clear that we may have many forward-thinking and progressive planners for this town, but for the most part it is full of “good old days” citizens that wouldn’t change anything at all.

  9. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    This is not a city issue. Focus on why the city was formed.

  10. DaveH says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Unfortunately people are not seeing the big picture. It is not just about a plastic bag issue in Tahoe. It is the use of disposable bags world wide. This is an item that is made from petroleum, a resource that is not renewable. A factory uses oil to make those plastic bags and uses more oil to ship those plastic bags so that people can carry items from the store to their home, once, and then throw them out. And they make billions every year…every year. If only 15% are being recycled, where are the rest? Plastic bags do not degrade. If not recycled they stay in landfills or worse get into water courses and end up in the oceans. We here in Tahoe are just adding our small contribution to the problem.
    This problem is real and it is about forward thinking beyond just what we do today. It is about looking at what our grandkids get. And we will run out of oil. So why not use it better now instead of using millions of gallons to make disposable plastic bags? And no, paper isn’t better. It’s about carrying your stuff in a durable reusable container. And for those who are worried about “not washing their bags”? Well wouldn’t that be along the lines of not washing your clothes or not rinsing your vegetables from the store?
    Most people here at least understand when it comes to lake clarity for Tahoe. We all understand the efforts and sacrifices we make around the basin to help keep the lake healthy. It is not just about cost, but our quality of life. Well, the plastic bag issue is like that, except for the planet. Not long ago a lot of people thought climate change was a myth and not a problem…

  11. Beerman says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Sitting in the meeting yesterday was once again pointless. It was just like watching three elderly people trying to use email for the first time. Joan Coner’s biggest concern with the ban was what she would do with her shoes when she packs a suit case or what to put her dirty diapers in. Hale cole couldn’t grasp the 10 cent paper bag fee even though it was explained to him four times. Tom Davis was against it because of fear people would not wash their reusable bags and get sick. This is an issue that will have to be solved at the state level.

  12. mike mulligan says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Antiquated council members strike once again. This is not the leadership that we need. More harm than good? Time for new blood and a new direction. These guys don’t get it.

  13. Dean says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    @Steve, This is not a problem caused only by vacationer’s. Take a look at some of the locals here.

  14. Say What? says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    “Their presentation said it is estimated $200 a year in state and federal taxes are spent per person to clean up litter and waste associated with single use bags.”

    If we assume roughly 20,000 residents on the City of South Lake Tahoe, that would mean there’s $4 Million being spent by State and Federal governments to clean up plastic bags in the city. Either the numbers are suspect or the government isn’t very good at picking up trash.

    Also, how does a City commission spend three years working on an ordinance, and then the City Council acts like it’s the first time they’ve heard of it when it’s presented to them? Does this dysfunction fall on the Council or the Commission?

  15. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    The best decision the council has made since they put the stoplight in at the Marriott.

    I don’t like the fanatics telling me what to do.

    Kind of funny that CEQA got in the way. Brown had it right when he wanted to tone it down.

    These people scare me. What’s next banning hair conditioner and shaving products because they waste water?

  16. Bijou Bill says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Minimal research on the net reveals the enormity of the plastic bag problem. I suggest starting with Cal. Against Waste @ although there is overwhelming evidence of the worldwide stupidity of refusing to face up to this easy to solve issue from any number of sources.

  17. Art says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    The city council has made another bad decision. DaveH is right. It’s not about our local communinty but worldwide. Let me remind you that there is a massive floating garbage area of ocean the size of Texas. Plastic breaks down to small particles that then settles on the ocean floor disrupting the ecological system. Come on City Council step into the 21st century.

  18. ljames says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Kudus to Dave H for the most cogent comments – if we as a city cant tackle something as simple as bags, I think no body better hold their breath on some of the bigger issues facing Tahoe. And the comments about “not a problem here so dont bother me” are really revealing.

    One thing that does address a few negative comments, and it’s used in Europe. You still have plastic bags there, but they are heavier and can be used multiple times, and you pay a nickle or dime for them, so you are more concious about their use and you see many folks bring them to the supermarket to use more than once. It takes a week or so to get in the swing of remembering to bring themn to the store, but even as a tourist, you get used to it and its no big deal!!!
    As to thinner plastic bags to wrap wet items, they are available, but its the number of those carry out plastic bags that can be greatly reduced – I hate to say it, but it seems a sad truth – if we keep electing who we do to city council – we get what we deserve. That they were challenged by even understanding the details of a common environmental improvment strategy that has been adopted in lots of places, its pathetic. Want to put the city at risk with a redevelopment scheme and no performance bond – no problem!

  19. A.B. says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    When will the people stand up and take their freedom back? You have the government telling you what king of light bulbs you can use, what type of car you can drive, what type of shower head you can have, what type of light switch you can have, how much soda you can drink, how much salt you can put on your food, and the list goes on & on & on.

    Kudos to members of the City Council for just saying NO to this lunacy.

    For those who don’t want plastic bags, don’t use them!

    And if you want to be consistent, let’s ban the use of disposable diapers, which cause more harm to our environment than plastic bags.

  20. Ted Long says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    No need? The need is leadership, and standing for something.

  21. dumbfounded says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    I prefer true conservative values. Don’t like plastic bags? Don’t use them. Don’t like abortion? Don’t get one. Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one. Don’t like drugs? Don’t take them.

    Get the idea? Pretty simple.

  22. Bijou Bill says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Don’t want lead in your paint? Don’t buy it. But don’t tell ME I can’t paint all my properties with paint loaded with lead if I want to. Get the idea?

  23. Boone6651 says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Wow, lots of posts about plastic bags! Eh, really? That’s what we need, Government laying out another law/rule telling us what we can and cannot do. Let’s move on to important topics folks.

  24. TahoeDave says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Kudos to the Council. What we need is LESS government. We are already over regulated to the point of absurdity. If you don’t like plastic bags- don’t use them. Do your part – but don’t force your beliefs on me. We re-use ours as garbage bags. Do those of you who are so adamantly against plastic bags use plastic garbage bags? What about tires? I say we ban all tires because they leave rubber residue on the roads as they wear down which washes out into the environment. They POLLUTE!! They do not decompose. They take millions of gallons of petroleum products to make, and god knows how much to ship. Yep that’s the real problem. Tires. Let’s ban them all. Get the point?

  25. "HangsUpsFromWayBack" says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Just be responsible for your own trash. Educate the public ON DUMPSTERS,and a thing called a LID……”USE IT!!”

    Tahoe is all our back yards, try not to be a slob,pick up after yourselves!

  26. Sierra says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Washable fabric shoe bags are a versatile non-petroleum-based alternative to packing shoes in plastic grocery bags during travel.

    These are hand made in the Tahoe area too.

  27. nature bats last says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Its hard to teach dinosaurs a new trick. humans are so self serving and have shown that they will go the way of the last dinosaurs pretty soon. Then the next new creatures can mine our decay to build their plastic bags for their groceries or dod poop or what ever plastic chach key they deem needable. Pathetic City Council in this town. What do they stand for? Certainly not much

  28. Dogula says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Bats, maybe they’re finally (!) standing for leaving people the heck alone unless it’s an actual SERIOUS issue.
    Some people don’t feel the need to control other people’s every waking move. How refreshing.

  29. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    How much were they going to pay the bag police? I could use a cushy job with early retirement.

  30. Garry Bowen says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Most relevant comments are by ‘Say What’ and Adam Jensen of the Trib: Adam says “the ban would have shown the City’s commitment to the environment while reducing plastic bags impacts on litter,storm drains, wildlife and greenhouse gas emissions” while ‘Say What ?’ mentions the estimated cost per capita associated with reducing the above impacts.

    Say What also asks where the “dysfunction” lies: with the Council or with the Commission (?). . . well, as the Commission was demoted to Committee status from Commission (a double whammy for them yesterday), so, in Hal Cole’s words, “they can avoid the rules of the Brown Act”, doesn’t really say much for either, does it ?

    When no one can point to a Council the 5X difference between paying $ 40/yr. extra (@ .10/bag) and saving $ 200.00 yr./annum in reclamation costs, then we know their concern with finances is suspect. The most this council has done is to borrow $ 5 million dollars (with a payback of $ 10 million) – for a maintenance issue !!

    That TRPA now has its’ largest population “non-committed” to such a simple beginning step as that done already by hundreds of cities, a whole country (China), and even a sub-Continent (Australia), and 82% of “their own” wanting it (according to a survey conveyed by ‘B’ Gorman of the Chamber), then it becomes easier to understand the reason why South Shore is “upside-down” & backwards.

    Mr. Davis wants to wait until the entire state of CA bans them: hate to say so, but that qualifies as being a “follower”, not a leader. . .and so doesn’t bode well for the City’s own citizen survey as to becoming a green community. . .

    In addition to the locales offered above, there are now 6 or 7 plastic-infested gyres (look the word up) in the world’s oceans – but that’s not enough of a problem for politicos in this town, as they control Tahoe, so do what THEY want, not for the citizens. . .

    To compare destroying our global source of fisheries with whether someone is going to wash their own “washable” reusable bag is, in fact, the same moral legislating as Ms. Conner says she abhors. . .”No shoes, No shirt, No Service” – does anyone ever ask if they’ve been laundered before entry(?)…

    I would vote for the Commission over this Council as to any ultimate success in “pulling this City back up by its’ bootstraps”, but a Commission not supported by its’ own initiators (Council 2008)can only claim responsibility for their keeping it DOWN. . .and their staying on.

    To our continued peril. . .

  31. CWA says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    I was absolutely shocked the city council couldn’t see the forest for the trees in their decision not to support the plastic bag ban! I am surprised they don’t know how easy it is to bring your own bag, buy one for 99 cents that can be used again and again, or opt for the 10 cents for paper. Not a hard habit to get into. Did they pay attention to the over 300 signatures to a petition supporting the ban? Do they care about our environment at all?

  32. jenny says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Well said, DaveH.

  33. hmmm... says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    The city is behind the curve on this one. @dumbfounded and those who espouse that laissez-faire conservative approach…i get it, but what about when your neighbor plops a big __________(fill in the blank) spewing crap into our water table next to your house? Don’t want to visit a place with 1950’s environmental sensibilitis? Don’t come here. If that’s what you want, cool I guess…but be prepared to accept the consequences.

  34. dumbfounded says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Bijou Bill and hmmm, I understand your points regarding some regulation being required. I see that some things do actually require regulation, like air, water, financial markets, corporations, safety and so on. The current batch of “conservatives” don’t seem to understand this concept claiming that they want to close the EPA and other regulatory agencies. I saw an opportunity to make that point and I think that you have helped me to do so. Thank you. Like most Americans, I see the middle-ground and compromise, not the extremes of every issue.

    Our leaders have made a decision, for better or for worse. Since these plastic bags do cause problems sometimes, let’s do our best to be part of the solution.

  35. Marc says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Good job council. I reuse the plastic bags. If I remember canvas bags great but don’t penalize me for forgetting.

  36. Aaron says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Yey, more legislation. Yes, plastic is a problem and there needs to be more effective education so that people can opt to make a better choice. Seriously though, this is a perfect example of over-legislation.

  37. Snow says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    The only way to teach, to implement change these days, is to hit folks in the wallet, ie: bring your own bag, or pay $.10 per bag at the store.

    Choice is preserved.

    Win, win…city/county makes money, reduction of consumption, and a healthier environment. Look at the benefits many other cities/counties have reaped.

    : )

  38. Toogee says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Snow, I think you are correct. I have 5 canvas bags hanging on my door, yet I forget them 95% of the time. Sometimes me and my fellow humans need a little more incentive to make the right decision as it pertains to looking after our planet, and thereby ourselves. Sad, yet true!

  39. Diana Hamilton says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    Raley’s and some of the other markets used to give me a nickel credit for bringing my own bags – positive reinforcement!

  40. tahoedad says - Posted: January 23, 2013

    The city council did not vote on this issue. While they indicated they weren’t ready to support the bring your own bag ordinance, they deferred action. So for everyone who agrees this would be a great step toward sustainability for the city to take, there is still an opportunity for you to help make it happen. Join the more than 300 of us — since Friday — who have signed this petition in support of the BYOB (bring your own bag ordinance):

    The Sustainability Commission did a ton of great research in support of the BYOB. I encourage everyone, regardless of your current opinion on this issue, to take a moment to look at their powerpoint, which you can find on the SLT website here:

    55 California cities and 5 counties have adopted similar ordinances. As far as I know, not a single one has voted to reverse their decision — and why would they? Businesses improve their bottom lines by not wasting money on polluting bags (which is one reason why 82% of Tahoe businesses polled by the Chamber expressed support for the BYOB), all shoppers have an easy way to be part of the solution, fewer birds and fish choke on plastic and die, less oil is burned and fewer CO2 emissions are produced in order to manufacture unnecessary plastic bags, money spent for trash disposal goes down (SLT residents use more than 8 million single use plastic bags per year), etc., etc.

    I like the idea presented by the Sustainability Commission of combining the BYOB with a Shop Tahoe campaign — let’s keep our dollars, rather than our plastic trash, local!

  41. thing fish says - Posted: January 24, 2013

    Since using my own bags I haven’t broken a bottle of beer due to a catastrophic failure of a plastic bag. What did people do before disposable grocery bags? Kick their junk down the cobble stone street?
    It’s not that hard. Get 4 bags, keep 2 in the car, and whenever you can remember, bring the missing ones with you.
    Chico Bags compress down to the size of an apple. There are very few logical reasons to not have a bag.

  42. nature bats last says - Posted: January 24, 2013

    I carry reusable bags in my car at all times and because I care about the environment I bring them with me to the grocery store every time I go. Its not that hard and I believe that if people want the plastic bags they should pay for the priveledge. What a farce our city council is and how unsightful they are. this was a no brainer but I guess you have to have collective wisdom to see that. Not in this town!!!

  43. "HangsUpsFromWayBack" says - Posted: January 25, 2013

    Remember the days when you took back your coke bottles got 30 cents,cans were like 3-cents each,the boxes in the stores were reused to put you groceries in to carry to the car.

    The Big Poo in the sky now days is just throw it away,a dollar not worth the hassle to redeem or a quarter,nickle, not worth bending over picking up kind of society.

    That’s where lots things went wrong.
    Then they invented the word “RECYCLE” WHICH SO MANY COULD CARE LESS ABOUT.

  44. Sierra says - Posted: January 25, 2013

    Local made, washable solution for packing shoes while traveling. No more flimsy, eco-unfriendly plastic ones necessary.