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City named in plastic bag lawsuit; now it only includes IWMA

Posted: Friday, Feb 10th, 2012

As a result of San Luis Obispo County's Integrated Waste Management Authority's decision to ban single use bags, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition filed a lawsuit against the IWMA.

The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate to set aside, void, annul, repeal and terminate the implementation and enforcement of the IWMA's ordinance fully adopted on Jan. 11.

In the original petition, the county of SLO and the nine county cities were also named. Since then, Attorney Stephen Joseph said the petition was amended to only include the IWMA.

The Atascadero City Council is set to discuss the pending litigation at the meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14 during closed session, which will occur at the end of the meeting. Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the issue during the meeting, either during community forum or prior to the closed session. As of press time, the city of Atascadero had not been notified of the amendment and it will be removed from the agenda if the city is no longer being sued.

The ordinance requires that grocery stores, pharmacies and other big box stores 10,000 square feet or larger charge at least 10 cents for disposable bags used by customers as of Oct. 1.

According to the lawsuit, the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to complete and certify an environmental impact report prior to adopting the ordinance.

Included in the original lawsuit was a second case of action,; it sought to invalidate the IWMA's board, because one board member, Greg O'Sullivan , was directed by the Templeton Community Services District to vote against the ordinance.

According to the petition, if O'Sullivan had voted against the ordinance, the ordinance would not have been adopted. Since the lawsuit was fi led, the petitioner has withdrawn the second case of action "to enable other parties to seek invalidation of the ordinance based on the unauthorized vote of IWMA Director Greg O'Sullivan ."

According to the petition, Save the Plastic Bags was formed on June 3, 2008, by Joseph with several plastic bag and reusable bag manufacturers for the purpose of responding to alleged environmental misinformation about plastic bags and "ensuring that the environmental impacts of banning plastic bags are made known to decision-makers and the public." He said that the members are mostly located in California and none of them are located overseas.

Atascadero Mayor Pro Tem Tom O'Malley serves on the IWMA as Atascadero's representative and he voted against the ordinance. Fifth District County Supervisor Jim Patterson, however, voted in favor of the ordinance. Patterson said that he did take the Atascadero City Council's opinion into consideration but that he did have to consider the rest of the county.

"One of the things that was not done by the council they did not take a position on it, but they did have a hearing on it even after inviting the IWMA up to present the facts," Patterson said. "I think that it was unfortunate, especially in light of all of the misinformation that was circulated by the American Chemical Council regarding the ban, that there was just as lot of misunderstanding out there about what is being included in the ban and what is not, and I think it's really important to emphasize because this is one of the two areas where there was the greatest misunderstanding."

According to Save the Plastic Bag's website,, Joseph was approached by plastic bag manufacturers who wanted him to help defeat ban initiatives. At that time he refused because "he assumed that the negative environmental information about plastic bags on the Internet was correct."

However, the website states, he began researching the subject in March 2008 after reading an article in the London Times, and "he was surprised to find that most of the information circulating on the Internet about plastic bags was false. He discovered that paper bags were worse for the environment, especially regarding energy consumption and CO2 and methane emissions ."

According to the group's website, the coalition is not associated with the American Chemistry Council or Progressive Bag Affiliates , although it is noted that one coalition member is also a member of those groups.

Joseph said that no hearing date has been set at this time, but it will be scheduled at the Case Management Conference in March. He said the coalition has sued several counties and cities in California for various plastic bag bans. The coalition was successful in many of its lawsuits with most of the agencies either repealing decisions or making changes to ordinances.

"The Supreme Court ruled that cities and counties larger than the City of Manhattan Beach (population 33,000) "will be required" to prepare Environmental Impact Reports before banning plastic bags," Joseph said. "The population of SLO County is 265,297. The Supreme Court ruled that Manhattan Beach was too small to be required to prepare an EIR, so we lost as to that particular city."

The Atascadero City Council will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. at Atascadero City Hall. The meeting will be aired live on Charter Cable Channel 20, at www.atascadero .org and KPRL AM1230.

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