Blog Archives

It’s In The Bag

Kids, Don't Try This at Home

Kids, Don’t Try This at Home

Ah, yes, I still hear them cheering when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the first-in-the-nation statewide ban on plastic bags. Saying, “We’re the first to ban these bags and we won’t be the last,” Brown crowed that it was the miracle cure that would clear our landfills and beaches of the noxious bags.

I hate ’em. Plastic bags, I mean. They are not environmentally friendly and are a threat to wildlife. My wife and I do our best to bring our own bags to the store when we shop. It doesn’t always work out, though. Sometimes, we miscalculate and wind up with a mix of our own and the plastic thingies from Albertsons. And, paper bags would be better all around.

And, up until recently, it looked like we were all headed in the same direction come this July 1st, whether we liked it or not. That was the scheduled date of implementation for major grocery stores and pharmacies to comply with the law by getting rid of plastic bags. Of course, they could still offer you a paper store bag.

That paper bag would cost you ten cents, however. My wife and I found out how this works last year when we took a road trip to Petaluma (don’t ask). On the way, we stopped at a San Francisco Trader Joes. After marveling at the escalator just for shopping carts, we shopped for groceries. On checkout, the cashier asked for our bags.

“Bags?” I mumbled. “We didn’t know….”,  shuffling my feet and thinking we would have to carry out the groceries in our hands. Not to worry. The kindly cashier was happy to produce a bag – at the cost of ten cents. Thus, we were introduced to the San Francisco local bag ban.

Now, it looked like what was good for San Francisco, Huntington Beach and a host of other cities in and out of Orange County, would be good for the entire state.

That is, until the plastic bag manufacturers got together and collected signatures. Enough signatures -over 800,000- were gathered within the time frame and submitted to the state. The state has certified the referendum and it will now appear on the 2016 ballot.

This particular law has local ramifications, of sorts. Durabag Company Incorporated, is located in Tustin, off Redhill and Edinger. It is a small business by most standards but they have been around awhile and they employ a number of people in the manufacture of plastic bags and paper materials. According to a press release last year, Durabag joined several other local bag manufacturers in a “Bag the Ban” alliance to squelch the bill prior to enactment. According to the alliance, 2,000 jobs are at stake.

Well, I suppose sacrifices have to be made although I wouldn’t necessarily include jobs of mostly lower-middle class workers in that. Yes, durabag (and probably the other manufacturers) produce other goods, notably paper bags and boxes. But, there would still likely be some loss.

Then, there is the ten cent a paper bag tax fee incentive to bring your own bags. I suspect that, unless you are already environmentally prone to supplying your own bags, a user fee is not going to do much to coerce you. And, there is the question as to whether the ban really works. If it does, why are a host of cities who enacted local bag ban ordinances now contemplating repeal?

Our own Huntington Beach, saw their city council chamber filled with supporters and detractors in a January meeting. Their ban could be lifted in May if some councilmembers have their way. Other cities in California and across the nation (in cities a lot more environmentally conscious than ours) are considering the same move to repeal their bag bans.

In any case, it looks like we are safe from the statewide bag ban for now. With the Secretary of State’s certification of signatures, the issue is headed to the voters in 2016. It is anyone’s guess whether the law will be overturned. And, even if it is, other cities could join the more than 100 California communities that have enacted local ordinances to ban plastic bags.

Could Tustin be on that list?

Something Worth Voting For

Two of the items I touched upon in last week’s City Council Agenda were introduced by Mayor Jerry Amante.  With some mystery, Amante agendized discussion of council benefits, stipends and gifts and the possibility of having citizens determine these matters through referendum. Although Tustin has been fortunate to have, what is considered to be, a relatively open city government, it has had issues over the past few years regarding stipends and benefits for city leaders. Councilmember Deborah Gavello, in particular, has had her problems with the Orange County Register revealing what some would call lavish expenditures.  And, like Matt Cunningnham at Red County, I have a hard time getting into a tizzy over councilmember’s benefits (unless we are talking Bell). However, allowing the citizens of Tustin to have a direct hand in determining council compensation is a great idea.

I am not sure how far Boss Tweed Amante, who is termed out and will not be affected by any changes, wants to take this. It is certainly better than the old method whereby the outgoing council was responsible for setting the incoming council pay. And, it would certainly clear up any ambiguity Gavello or her attorney may believe there is in current law.

I firmly believe that most offices of government, up to Congress should be considered a citizen government. This is particularly true of local government. city councils and, indeed, even county board of supervisors should have full-time jobs and not be dependent on stipends and benefits from their part-time work as keepers of the keys. While professional legislators have overrun state and local government, usually to the detriment of the citizens they supposedly serve, cities and counties should never succumb to such a scheme.

It is hard to say what good old Jerry will come up with. Fresh from his triumph over those gullible Tustinites who would dare to oppose his tyranical form of governance, this may be an effort to paint himself as the altruistic politician he so often claims to be. If he will accept a few suggestions, here is my two cents:

  • Stipends should reflect a reasonable amount to allow for time spent on city matters. Let’s not forget, however, the intention is not to create a job, but to draw volunteers to public service. At the same time, the citizens, in a rage over some perceived action or inaction by the council, should not be allowed to make wide-ranging changes in compensation. Perhaps a cap of plus/minus 10% should be the limit for any change in stipend during any term set by law.
  • Benefits should be considered separately and not subject to the same cap as stipends. I mean, do you really expect or want a candidate to consider running for the position of city council based on whether they will be able to obtain health benefits? I am not sure whose idea it first was to propose any benefit other than a stipend for local elected officials but the idea stinks, plain and simple. Better the officials are given a “personal benefits account” (subject to certain rules) that could be used to further the official’s outreach to the community. After all, these are elected officials, not employees.
  • This should be a recurring referendum that is automatically placed on the ballot during council election years. This eliminates the confusion caused by midstream changes. It also makes it easy for the budget committee to forecast council expenses. Choices should be “raise”, “lower” or “no change”.

Jerry also has asked staff to come up with a more strict policy for councilmembers regarding gifts and gratuities. He believes the starting (and ending) point should be the policy currently in place for city staff. Whether this is practical or not, remains to be seen. I am willing to look at what the staff come up with before commenting. However, all of this is a step in the right direction.

It is good to see that Amante is at least attempting to be thoughtful as he moves into his final year of office. Oh yes, we have no doubt he will continue as Hizzoner through the end of his term.