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Plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery may face new rules in Santa Barbara soon

A months long debate over ways to reduce the use of plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery in Santa Barbara businesses has resulted in a re-modified ordinance, and an upcoming vote by the City Council.

The issue has been widely misunderstood by those who have said using a plastic straw will result in criminal action based on the interpretation of the city’s municipal code and violation process. Top city officials have said repeatedly that is not the intent, and they only want to reduce the amount of plastic waste from these items.

The proposal does not impact use in a private home. It also has exemptions for those with special needs.

The enforcement is expected to have a process of warnings and fines for those who do not comply. Other similar laws and enforcement procedures have had full compliance, according to a staff report Tuesday.

National news reports in recent weeks have said enforcement would be much harsher, but there was no contact with the city to come up with that conclusion according to Mayor Cathy Murrillo . She said City Hall was never called.

In an apparent protest, some people have sent plastic straws to the council office.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne said if the ordinance is passed by the council later this year it would be in place in July, 2019. Violations would be handled first with a warning letter. Repeated offenses would be followed by a progressive series of fines in a range of up to $250.

He said the ordinance has a provision for a high level of city enforcement as part of a normal process to deal with the most serious offenders. That would be, for example, a business that continued to break the rules for more than a year and received multiple penalties but continued with the violation.

Calonne pointed out recently a ride-sharing scooter business came to town and “dumped” over 100 scooters on public property. It was an effort by the Lime company to test market their business. The effort broke many local rules and the scooters were impounded, a hearing was held and the company was scolded in a public meeting. It also had to pay for the impound costs.

This issue has been churning in local discussions all summer but environmental groups say the voluntary compliance has been impressive. Many businesses have already started either offering straws only on request, or stocking paper and other non-plastic straws. More than one restaurant has long tubular pasta as a straw.

At an ordinance committee meeting Tuesday at City Hall, there were no speakers who said they were unable to consume liquid using the alternative straws, or a business who said it would cause an undue financial hardship.

Both the Community Environmental Council and Channelkeeper, two of the top advocates were present to speak. They have been doing outreach to area restaurants along the Santa Barbara coast. The effort moves on now to Goleta and Carpinteria where a preliminary report shows support according to representatives from each group, Kathy King (CEC) and Penny Owens (Channelkeeper.)

Councilmember Randy Rowse said the city had more important issues to deal with and voted against moving the issue forward. He owns a local restaurant and has already removed the plastic for paper straws without an ordinance to require it.

The next stop will be a hearing in front of the City Council. That meeting is also expected to come with a full explanation of the ordinance, penalties and a clarification of any misinterpretation so far.

Other California cities with plastic straw bans include San Luis Obispo, Malibu, and Carmel.

Santa Barbara has been an environmental leader in the nation since the 1969 offshore oil disaster and is the birth place of Earth Day.

For more information go to: Santa Barbara City Council agenda

Article Topic Follows: News

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