It’s a great day for environmentalists, nature lovers and eco-minded individuals as they bid farewell to single-use plastic bags. On Tuesday, Sept. 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB270, which bans the use of single-use plastic bags. The ban is set to take effect July 2015, first in grocery stores and then in pharmacies and convenience stores by 2016. Some are adamantly against more government interference; their argument, however, is rather weak.
If the government mandated that every person only buy as many groceries as can be carried with two hands, then maybe that would be a bit over the top. But to moan and groan over investing in reusable bags, as many public events offer attendees bags for free, to prevent billions of plastic bags per year going to landfills, making their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is mainly made up of non-biodegradable plastic in the Pacific Ocean, or even to recyclers that emit emissions to make new bags, is a waste of time and energy. With more than 100 cities in California having already enacted such bans, it was just a matter of time.
Truth be told, the real issue at hand, however, is that when it comes to local government, local city councils making such sweeping progressive decisions, many controversial topics are just swept under the rug until Sacramento deals with them. Take, for instance, a single-use plastic bag ban in Ventura.
When Ojai in 2012 became the first city in Ventura County to vote to ban single-use plastic bags, it was presumed that Ventura would follow right after with many diehard environmentalists in the city, including one on the council, Brian Brennan, and its largest private employer, Patagonia. Instead, the City Council decided it was better to wait and see what state legislators did, i.e., let them handle it. And now, more than two years later, after Ojai enacted its ban and with California’s ban just signed into law and to be implemented three years after Ojai, we must ask: Was it worth the wait, Ventura?
That, nevertheless, goes for all the cities and their respective councils in the county. We understand that in some situations your hands are tied. For instance, Ventura waited to place a moratorium on new massage establishments until this week, only after the state deleted a requirement regarding land-use restrictions earlier this month. That change in the law allows cities to have more local control over the proliferation of massage businesses, and we respect Ventura City Council’s decision to wait for such a change. But when it comes to talking about practical approaches to other controversial topics, topics that other cities have discussed and managed, such as access to medical marijuana, affordable housing, water use restrictions, pension reform, etc., local governments tend to be slow, stagnant or they just choose to opt out of the discussion altogether. That’s unacceptable.
It is certain that enacting laws is no easy task, and setting up more rules and regulations and then facing the music from disgruntled constituents is a strong incentive to do nothing, but we need strong leaders, unified voices, progressive decisions that balance with conservative principles to keep what we love. We look at every city with certain disappointment. We also applaud those who have made bold stands against things they feel are wrong, such as Ojai with various environmental concerns, Camarillo regarding the Conejo Creek development and Oxnard changing how business is done. But this “wait and see what the state does” way of running local government is just passing the buck. We need strong leaders to make progressive decisions and not let cities fritter away precious resources. We hope for change but should we continue to see the same lame duck politics, there’s always election day.