EL CERRITO -- The city's citizen Environmental Quality Committee gave its blessing July 9 to a proposal that would ban single-use plastic bags and styrene containers for takeout food, as well as a plan for the city to buy 7.5 acres in the hills to connect two city-owned areas of open space.

El Cerrito is in the midst of a public comment period on the bag and container ordinance that ends Monday, after which the City Council will consider a first draft when it meets Aug. 20.

Tuesday was the second meeting where the public was allowed to speak on the bag and container ordinance.

The city had received 25 comments about the proposal via email, letter and fax and at a meeting on June 11, with 15 definitely favoring the proposed ordinance and five opposed, according to city environmental analyst Garth Schultz.

The plastic bags are a significant contributor to litter in the environment, especially in the ocean and local waterways, and are a danger to wildlife, Schultz said.

The polystyrene container ban would apply to restaurants and other food service facilities that sell takeout food.

These businesses would be required to replace the styrene takeout containers with reusable or recyclable containers or with containers that break down easily when composted.

All the cities in Alameda County, the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, along with the unincorporated areas of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin counties, have similar ordinances, according to a city release.


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Opinions at Tuesday's meeting were mixed, with representatives from the Oakland-based environmental group Clean Water Action and some residents expressing support.

Samantha Meyer of Clean Water Action said 30 percent of California residents live in jurisdictions that have the ordinances.

Only 5 percent of the single-use bags are recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills or in the environment, she said.

"Animals see (the bags) as food and eat them," Meyer said. "We want to see El Cerrito take a leadership role on this issue."

A couple of speakers, including Mary Walker of El Cerrito, described the bags as "a litter problem, not a bag problem," saying that those who reuse bags and dispose of them properly should not be penalized because of the bad behavior of others.

Environmental committee member Sam Krueger disagreed.

"The bags are a problem by their inherent nature," he said. "They end up in the environment and stay there for a long time."

City eyes land purchase

Environmental Services Division manager Melanie Mintz said the city is considering an arrangement with the San Francisco—based Trust for Public Land to buy a 7.5-acre parcel in the El Cerrito hills for $475,000.

The council will get a chance to approve the land purchase at its July 16 meeting.

The acreage would connect trails between the southern and northern hillside areas, two parcels of open space owned by the city.

The plot, known informally as the Busby property, is west of Madera Elementary School between the two hillside areas.

Hikers envision continuous walks from trailheads at Moeser Lane and Regency Court through the southern hillside area and the Busby property and then downhill across Potrero Avenue to the northern hillside area.

Trust for Public Land has negotiated the price with the owners. The agency would buy the property and hold it for 17 months, giving the city time to raise the money to purchase it by the end of 2014.

"It's a cash-flow issue," Abelson said.

Mintz said the city envisions using money from Measure WW, a voter-approved park funding measure, public grants and private fundraising to finance the deal.

Environmental committee member Dave Weinstein said the Trust for Public Land believes it can raise $250,000 in state and federal grants for the property.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Gary Hill, a member of El Cerrito's Parks and Recreation Commission. "It will fall to the next developer to come in if we don't act."