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L.A. plastic bag ban catches some shoppers off guard

June 18, 2013|By David Zahniser, Catherine Saillant and Matt Stevens

Attention Los Angeles shoppers: The plastic bag is disappearing from more than just the supermarket.

L.A. on Tuesday became the newest and by far the largest city to back a ban on plastic grocery bags, approving an ordinance that applies not just to food stores and mini-marts but also big retail chains with their own groceries, such as Target and Wal-Mart.

The ordinance, which has been in the works for years, will go into effect gradually, reaching large stores Jan. 1 and smaller ones July 1, 2014. Customers will either have to bring their own reusable bags or pay a 10-cent fee for each paper one, according to the ordinance.

Some shoppers were taken aback Tuesday by how far-reaching the law will be.

“If they don't give me a bag, what am I going to do?” an incredulous William Macary asked as he entered Wal-Mart in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. “If I pay money, I want a bag.”

Leaving a two-story Target in Eagle Rock with plastic bags in hand, Laura Vetter, 48, was also skeptical. “I'm going to forget to bring my bag, and I'm not going to want to pay, so Target will probably lose some of my business,” said the Highland Park resident. “Then I'll be putting even more things back.”

Others defended the law, saying there are sound environmental reasons for giving up plastic bags. “Is it annoying? Yes. Do I walk out ... juggling loose items? Yes. But people have plenty of spare bags,” said Jennifer Steers as she thumbed through an array of bath curtains at a Target store with her 2-year-old daughter. “I think it's probably all going to be OK.”

Tuesday’s 11-1 vote delivered a hard-fought victory to an array of environmental groups that have been going city by city and county by county with campaigns to keep plastic bags out of landfills, waterways and the ocean. Council members said they hoped to send a message to state lawmakers by enacting the law.

“Enough waiting for the Legislature to someday act on this,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian. “Let’s take a lead.”

State Sen. Alex Padilla, who saw his own plan for a plastic bag ban defeated last month, said L.A.’s vote “breathes new life” into his proposal. By 2014, at least 30% of California's population will be covered by laws regulating plastic and paper bags, he said.

“Every month that goes by, there’s another jurisdiction — some large, some small — that is adopting” restrictions on plastic bags, he added. “Clearly, this is a direction the state wants to move in and is going.”

In Los Angeles, 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.

Because Councilman Bernard C. Parks voted against the measure, a second vote will be needed next week. The outcome is not expected to change, however. A signature from the mayor — either departing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or his successor, Eric Garcetti  — is also expected.

The city’s measure passed over the objections of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry group fighting the ban. Alliance Chairman Mark Daniels called the 10-cent paper-bag fee charged by stores a “tax scam” that financially benefits grocers while hurting customers. He warned that a total of 1,000 jobs could be lost at L.A.-area plastic bag manufacturers.

Cathy Browne, general manager at Huntington Park-based bag maker Crown Poly, issued a similar warning but could not say how many jobs are in jeopardy at her plant as a result of L.A.’s bag law.

Kirsten James, who handles water policy for the advocacy group Heal the Bay, said the L.A. ordinance is no more expansive than those adopted in other nearby cities. Some communities, including Santa Monica, have gone even further, she said.

Clean-water advocates have been pressing for years for a bag ban in Los Angeles, after victories in Long Beach, Malibu, Pasadena and other cities. The success of that lobbying effort could be seen Tuesday as council members offered their own stories about the harm caused by plastic bags.

Krekorian, who represents the east San Fernando Valley, spoke of marine life as far away as Midway Island starving to death after ingesting the bags. Councilman Mitch Englander, whose district is in the west Valley, compared them to untethered kites.

“They end up in the trees. They end up in bird’s nests and they cause havoc to society,” he said.

Other council members expressed confidence that shoppers would adapt to the new shopping bag rules, which will be enforced at stores by the city’s existing staff of public works inspectors. “We’re going to send a message to the rest of the country and possibly the world that we are changing our ways,” said Councilman Jose Huizar.

That change seemed to already be in effect in Venice, where clerks in all three open checkout lines at Ralphs supermarket were bagging groceries into a colorful array of reusable bags. Mary Thomas, one of the market’s customers, said she has been bringing them for years.

“I don't like to waste things,” she said. “If I can help it, I won't take a bag at all.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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