Mountain View joined a growing list of Peninsula cities Tuesday night that plan to ban single-use, carry-out bags beginning in April.
The city council voted 5-2 to adopt an ordinance outlawing their use as well as a related environmental impact report. The ban applies to all retail businesses that sell clothing, food and personal items directly to consumers. Restaurants and charitable nonprofits like Goodwill are exempt.
Several of the council members cited concerns about the environment as their primary reason for supporting the bag ban.
"This is basically about our waterways, which are being clogged by plastic bags. This is about islands of plastic in the ocean. This is about serious costs to the city every year to clean up our waterways, to keep trash from entering our creeks," said Council Member Ronit Bryant.
Mountain View is one of 24 cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties that signed on to develop a regional approach to outlawing plastic bags and encouraging the use of reusable ones. San Mateo County took the lead role in preparing the environmental impact report.
"Life can go on very well without single-use plastic bags," Bryant said.
The report concluded that an ordinance would have beneficial to less-than-significant impacts. Of the estimated 592 million plastic bags that are used in Mountain View each year, 95 percent would be eliminated. Reusable bags are expected to absorb 65 percent of that total.
Vice Mayor John Inks and Council Member Tom Means, however, questioned whether a ban was the best way to address pollution caused by plastic bags blowing into storm drains and creeks.
"I don't know if government should be in the role of saying, 'Here's one size that fits all and if you don't like our preferences, tough, you have to follow that,'" Means said. "I think it's a little intolerant."
Inks recoiled at the idea of limiting a person's choice at checkout, even though he has used canvas bags for the past 20 years.
"I don't use plastic bags very much, but I kind of resent the fact that some people are now trying to tell me that, depending on what I buy, I don't have the choice and other people don't have the choice," Inks said.
Council Member Jac Siegel, however, said the ordinance was a "good start" to solving a complex problem.
"This isn't a perfect solution, but just because a solution isn't perfect doesn't mean you do nothing," Siegel said.
Like Bryant, Siegel said the ban boiled down to protecting the environment.
"I think that the devastation on wildlife is just unacceptable," he said. "Animals don't know what plastic bags are. They eat it and they die a horrible death, and this includes birds, mammals, fish and who knows what else."
The reaction was similarly mixed among members of the public who addressed the city council on the topic. Most supported the ban on environmental protection grounds while a handful rejected it as intrusive.
"I don't think it's too burdensome on people to ask them to use reusable bags," Dave Paradise said. "I've been doing it and I see more and more people doing it all the time. It seems like a totally reasonable thing to do."
But resident Don Ball said he wanted to see more studies on the health impacts associated with reusable bags, which can reportedly harbor harmful microbes if not properly cleaned.
"We have all these studies that say what happens to the environment," Ball told the city council. "We have no studies that say what happens to the public health. And I think that's a mistake."
Similar to other cities that have adopted a bag ban under the joint effort, Mountain View's ordinance is scheduled to take effect April 22, Earth Day. Recycled-content paper bags will be available for purchase at 10 cents each, but that cost will climb to 25 cents on Jan. 1, 2015.