WALNUT CREEK -- The City Council formally passed a ban on plastic shopping bags for retail stores and restaurants Tuesday night, but city leaders also signaled they may give restaurant owners an out in the near future.
After complaints from restaurateurs that they were told the council wouldn't include them in the ban, which outlaws the use of single-use carryout plastic bags, the council directed city staff to come back in 60 days once outreach was done with restaurateurs.
As it stands now, the ban -- approved after the law's second reading Tuesday -- will go into effect in six months for grocery stores and other retailers and in nine months for restaurants.
"All of us certainly want to ensure that we give the restaurateurs adequate opportunity to address their concerns and learn about what the plans might be," said Councilwoman Cindy Silva on Tuesday.
After that 60 days of outreach and education, there may be no changes ... or the council could decide to repeal their plastic bag ban for restaurants.
On March 4, Walnut Creek became the 101st city in the state banning single-use carryout plastic bags at all retail stores, including supermarkets and pharmacies.
The adopted plastic bag ordinance will require retail stores to charge a fee of 10 to 25 cents for each paper bag. Customers also can bring in their own reusable bag at no charge. There are exceptions for paper and plastic bags without handles for meat, produce, dry-cleaned clothes, prepared foods and prescription medications.
But there are far fewer cities that have also banned the bags at restaurants, often citing that for food, paper bags -- the alternative to plastic -- may not be a great choice.
Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco's Ristorante Pizzeria, agrees paper bags for a restaurant is not a good option.
"Paper bags rip and tear very easily," he said Tuesday. "In 15 years I have never had any food rip or tear through a plastic bag, ever."
Asking for a delay in the law, Biale said restaurant owners only found out they were included in the ban after reading about it in the newspaper.
When city staff presented the draft ordinance to members of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce in January, restaurateurs were told they would not be included in the ban, Biale said.
The chamber and the California Restaurant Association also asked Tuesday that the council delay passing the new law because the council did not adequately alert restaurateurs they would be affected.
Some council members said city staff made it clear the council could include restaurants, while others said they put restaurants in the law at the last minute.
"I do think we did kind of a bait and switch," said Councilwoman Loella Haskew.
"We need to acknowledge that we advertised one thing and delivered something else. The 60-day reach-out period seems to be a good idea."
During this same outreach effort, city staff will alert restaurateurs the council plans to move forward on banning polystyrene take-out food containers in the near future.
We will "come back to you in a set period of time, 60 days or so, with the results of that outreach, what we actually learned from the restaurant community in terms of their specific concerns and the impacts to them," said City Attorney Steve Mattas.
"And then the council at that time could decide whether to repeal the applicability of this ordinance to retail food establishments."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.