Nearly three weeks after a statewide ban on plastic bags was rejected in Sacramento, the Los Angeles City Council is moving ahead with a similar measure to regulate carryout bags at supermarkets, pharmacies and some big retail chains.
Council members are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the final draft of its grocery bag ordinance, which would impose fines of up to $500 for those who repeatedly distribute "single-use" plastic bags to customers.
The proposed law, in the works for years, would apply to convenience stores, food marts and any large retailer that sells groceries, such as Target and Wal-Mart. That means customers buying shoes, clothes, kitchen supplies or other items at those chains would need to bring bags or buy them once they arrive, said Alex Helou, assistant director of the city's Bureau of Sanitation, which spearheaded the measure.
"If they buy housewares at those Target or Wal-Mart stores, they will need reusable bags," Helou said.
Sanitation officials estimate that 2 billion plastic bags are distributed in the city annually. If approved, the ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1 for large stores and July 1, 2014, for smaller ones.
The state Legislature declined to sign off on a similar measure a few weeks ago. Leading the charge against that bill was state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), who said it would hurt bag makers in his southeast Los Angeles County district.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who opposes the bag ban, said the state Senate showed a "significant amount of wisdom" by rejecting the idea. "The verbal comments were that it's a job killer," he said.
Parks questioned whether reusable bags were sanitary and said Angelenos were already recycling plastic bags. But backers of the measure, particularly clean-water advocates, say far too many bags are finding their way into landfills, waterways and the ocean. "This ordinance is going to bring great environmental good to the city of L.A.," said Kirsten James, with the environmental group Heal the Bay.
Councilman Paul Koretz argued that a ban on plastic bags would stimulate the economy by spurring increased manufacturing of reusable bags in Los Angeles County. "We believe this will create jobs ... for the people most vulnerable and most in need," he said.
L.A.'s ordinance also calls for a 10-cent fee on each paper bag distributed to customers. Businesses that fail to comply with the law would face a fine of $100 after the first violation, $200 after the second and $500 after the third. Fines would be imposed for each day the violation continues.
Dozens of cities and counties, including Santa Monica, Pasadena and San Francisco, have approved such bag bans.
Enrique Zaldivar, head of the L.A. sanitation bureau, said his department would rely on existing inspectors to enforce the proposed law.