An effort to end Huntington Beach's recently adopted ban on plastic bags is failing to gain momentum.
A petition drive has so far fallen short, and Councilman Dave Sullivan's attempt to place the issue on the November ballot failed Monday to garner enough votes from the City Council. Sullivan, Mayor Matthew Harper and Councilman Joe Carchio supported the measure, but it lost on a 4-3 vote after three hours of testimony from about 50 speakers.
"The City Council majority took it upon themselves to mandate changes that fundamentally affect every person that lives and shops in this city," resident Frank LoGrasso said. "The City Council should never have the power alone, without the approval of its citizens, to dictate to an entire sector of the business community how to service their clients."
LoGrasso, 55, attempted to gather enough signatures from voters to place an initiative repealing the bag ban on the November ballot. Since he began his effort in December, however, the local real estate agent has been able to collect only about 1,000 names, far from the required minimum of 10,940.
Council members can bypass signature gathering and vote to include an issue on the ballot. This, however, would still launch the process of securing an environmental impact report, as well as legal vetting.
Representatives from the Surfrider Foundation told council members that they collect plastic bags whenever they do their monthly beach cleanups.
Tony Soriano, chairman of the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach chapter, said volunteers picked up about 325 pounds of trash two weeks ago, with single-use plastic bags found in the mix.
"Currently, there's over a hundred jurisdictions in California that have already passed the bag ban," he said. "Repealing the bag ban would be a huge step back in the effort of reducing plastic bag litter from Huntington Beach streets, beaches and rivers."
Though many residents said they support the ban, frustrations were aimed at the 10-cent fee on paper bags that grocery stores were mandated to charge customers.
Sullivan said he could relate to LoGrasso's failure to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative. The councilman helped get Measure C, a city law that prohibits construction on park land of a certain size, on the ballot in 1990. It was the last time residents were able to get an issue on the ballot, he added.
"The reason why I brought this forward is because the people deserve a vote," Sullivan said. "I feel that if it goes on the ballot, the ban is going to be defeated overwhelmingly. Others of you feel that if it goes on the ballot, it's going to win. Well, let's let the people decide."
Carchio tried to remove the paper-bag fee a month before the ban went into effect in November, but his efforts fell short.
"I don't have any issue with banning plastic bags," Carchio said. "If you want to ban plastic bags, I'm all for it. I think that the environment should be protected, but we as consumers need to be protected too, and you didn't give us an opportunity to do that.… If you want to take the 10 cents away, I'm sure everybody in this room will be happy."
Councilman Jim Katapodis said he believes that a ballot initiative would be premature when the ordinance has only been in effect for five months and lawmakers are working on banning plastic bags statewide through Senate Bill 270.
But Carchio argued that the proposed bill has failed three times and believes it won't pass the fourth time around.
"If you're going to sit here and wait for the state to make a decision, that's never going to happen," he said.
Getting the issue placed on the November ballot through other means is highly unlikely but not impossible, City Clerk Joan Flynn said.
The four council members who voted for the plastic bag ban could ask for the issue to be reconsidered. The clerk said they would need to discuss it and decide by the May 5 meeting.
LoGrasso's effort is still a possibility, but lacking so many signatures makes it a long shot.
Flynn said she recommended that he turn in about 15,000 signatures by the end of March to allow her staff to weed out any unregistered voters and non-residents who may have signed the petition.
But LoGrasso indicated Tuesday that he was inclined to drop the petition effort and focus on electing new officials who will be sympathetic to his cause