Surfrider, Coastkeeper and Other Groups Sue Surf City Over Its Repeal of Plastic Bag Ban

Recycling at work
Recycling at work
Photo by flickr user MMU Library Services

The other receptacle made of organic polymers of high molecular mass has dropped: The Huntington Beach City Council's May 4 repeal of a plastic bag ban was met Tuesday by a lawsuit filed against Surf City by Southern California environmental groups that include San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation and Costa Mesa-based Orange County Coastkeeper.

Huntington Beach Plastic Bag Ban Bums Bimbas

"The leadership of Huntington Beach took a step backwards in terms of environmental protection, but what's worse is that they are enacting legislation in violation of the law," explains Angela Howe, the international Surfrider Foundation's legal director.

The enviros allege the city failed to conduct appropriate environmental review on the significant effects of repealing its single-use plastic bag ban since it took effect in 2013, and disclosing how the repeal will reverse those benefits, as required under the California Environmental Quality Act. By law, such a review should have addressed impacts on marine life, water quality and aesthetics from the reintroduction of single-use plastic bags into the environment, the groups claim.

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The complaint filed in Superior Court also challenges the Huntington Beach City Council's reliance on an addendum to the final environmental impact report that the previous council relied upon in passing the bag ban ordinance. The suit contends the current council improperly relied on language in the addendum that prevents public and expert review and comment on the environmental analysis.

"Citizens deserve to know the facts about the environmental harms of single-use plastic bags and how they affect the coastal environment, including their failure to break down in ocean waters and their harm to marine life, such as seals, dolphins and whales, which are killed after ingesting plastic or entanglement in it. Simply put, plastic bags can directly result in permanent waste and death of marine life," Howe says.

"Until recently, no city had repealed a bag ban that successfully reduced the volume of hazardous plastics from entering the environment," adds Colin Kelly, Coastkeeper's staff attorney. "Controlling the source of plastics and pollution, through bag bans, cost effectively limits the volume of trash affecting Huntington Beach and eases the burden on taxpayers to remove one of the most common pieces of litter from storm channels and our beaches. Removing common sense controls on single use plastic bags will result in more discarded plastic bags, more pollution in our waterways and beaches, and an increased burden on taxpayers to remedy the problem."

Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, claims his members in Huntington Beach have seen the plastic bag ban work. He called "putting 99 million plastic bags back into the environment" a "monumental step backward by the City Council."

City officials could not be reached for comment.

It was environmentalist who pushed the Huntington Beach council of April 2013 to pass the single-use plastic bag ban ordinance. The make-up of the council has changed in the years since, with Councilman Mike Posey having specifically run for office on a promise to void the ban.

"We are adults, we know how to recycle, we know how to reuse, and for the most part, I think most residents of Huntington Beach, myself included, already use paper, already use reusables," said Posey after the council voted 6-1 in favor of the repeal in April. Is is scheduled to become effective on June 3.

Though other cities went on to follow Huntington Beach's lead by enacting or at least considering bag bans of their own, Posey told KNX radio, "We're bucking the trend for a good reason. It's the repudiation to the paternalism that government wants to force on the electorate."

Besides Surfrider's Howe, the enviro groups are represented by Beverly Grossman Palmer of Los Angeles-based Strumwasser & Woocher LLP.

By the way, this may be moot by November 2016, when California voters decide on whether to ban plastic bags statewide.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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