Let’s play a game

You know, every time I think that I’ve witnessed a level of dimness that simply can’t be surpassed, something new manages to come out of City Hall and shock me even more. Check out Nancy Nadel staffer Marisa Arrona’s blog about the plastic bag ban:

However, even if our proposed ordinance were considered a “project” under CEQA, an EIR would be wholly speculative because they are asking us to essentially predict consumer behavior. In other words, the plastic bag industry is claiming that if we ban plastic bags, then consumers will use paper bags or compostable plastic bags instead, and that will have an adverse environmental impact. But, says who? Who says that’s what consumers will do?

My God. Is there something in the water at this office? Nancy Nadel told the Trib the same thing:

In Oakland’s case, Nadel said an EIR would be inconclusive anyway, because it would be impossible to predict whether shoppers would use paper bags or reusable bags if plastic were not an option.

I made the same argument as the evil plastic bag manufacturers are making repeatedly on this blog before the ban passed, so obviously I agree that the Council should engage in environmental review before they make stupid decisions like this. And while I consider myself rather clever, I don’t think I’m clever enough to sit here and come up with a good argument why the City shouldn’t have to do an EIR. Maybe if I was being paid I could. Or maybe not. But I like to hope that the City is employing people significantly more clever than me, so you’d assume that someone over there would be able to come up with a good argument in their defense. Instead, this is what we get: we shouldn’t have to study the environmental impacts of our decision because nobody can predict the future. I will give five Linden dollars to the first person who tells me the logical conclusion of that sentiment.

3 thoughts on “Let’s play a game

  1. Marisa Arrona

    Hi ~ Thank you for directing traffic to my personal blog, and to the post I published regarding the plastic bag ban ordinance. Although I occasionally write about the public aspects of my work, my blog is personal and not as a representative of Councilmember Nadel. I hope your readers will click on the link to my blog post, which includes links to the Staff Reports I co-wrote and to the actual ordinance. The Staff Reports explain that the intent of our proposed ordinance is for consumers to switch to reusable/canvas bags ~ therefore this issue is not simply about “paper or plastic” (the answer is “neither”). There are broader, complicated aspects of this issue which you omit from your post, but which are discussed in both Staff Reports.

    The Staff Reports also explain that California law is very specific regarding CEQA review: certain projects trigger very specific environmental impact reviews ~ the plastic bag ban is not one of those projects. The plastic bag industry’s lawsuit is an attempt to broaden the scope of CEQA and EIR beyond what was intended. The Staff Reports and the legal arguments being made by our City Attorney’s office are not “clever” and certainly not as simplistic as you state ~ they are extremely well-researched, as well as legally and environmentally sound.

    The point now is that the City of Oakland should not have to spend well over $100,000 of taxpayer dollars to conduct and EIR when, by law, we don’t have to ~ the plastic bag industry just says we do. So, I stand by my blog post, where the point is: the plastic bag industry should not dictate environmental policy.

    Thank you for bringing attention to this important legislation. I hope your readers, and indeed, you, delve deeper into this issue to really learn about all the relevant environmental, consumer, and policy implications.
    ~ Marisa Arrona

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    The intellectual laziness and weak arguments in the staff report have been repeatedly addressed on this blog.

    I’m not an attorney, but my understanding of the City’s argument in this case is not, as you’re claiming here, that the ordinance doesn’t trigger CEQA because it isn’t a “project.” I believe that the City is arguing that it doesn’t need to conduct environmental review because of the CEQA exemption for actions intended to help the environment. Since this ordinance bans one substance which will then likely be replaced with a more environmentally damaging substance, it seems eminently reasonable to me to question that assumption.

  3. Tab

    Um…if it’s impossible to predict shopper behavior, why does the ordinance say retailers “are strongly encouraged to provide incentives for the use of reusable bags”? Is this not a policy assuming…nay, depending upon…a predictable reaction by shoppers, to start using sustainable bags? Dumb argument, go away please!

    That said, they’re right, Schmoov. Plastic bag bans are the obvious wave of the future. Plastic bag recycling is a low-percentage rearguard activity under the best of circumstances, and the industry’s worries about a befouled recycling waste stream are crocodile tears. CEQA’s exemption for policies of obvious environmental benefit is prima facie correct here. The plastic bag industry seeks to make it costly for the City (or anyone) to win that case in court, and they’ve already won on that score. No doubt the City will rack up a far greater attorney time bill fighting this and holding press conferences than the $100K a slapdash EIR would’ve cost.

    So banning plastic bags is the right thing to do. For someone to do, anyway. But it makes no sense for that someone to be Oakland. Go the Fairfax route, make the ban voluntary for now and let SF or someone else pay the legal freight to fight in court. Same result a year or so later, more time and money now for the Council to craft effective quality of life policies for Oakland. Oh…never mind.