PITTSBURG -- Plastic bags soon will be a relic after the City Council unanimously gave the tentative OK to do away with the environmental menace.
Under the ordinance, grocery stores and other retailers in Pittsburg would not be able to provide customers with single-use plastic bags, which can end up in nearby waters and strewed along streets in this windy city when shoppers throw them away.
The matter will come back to the council for a second public hearing and formal consideration at an Oct. 21 meeting. If approved, the ordinance would go into effect Jan. 15, 2014 and Pittsburg would be the first East Contra Costa city to have such a ban.
The idea behind the ordinance is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags to stores and to cut down on the blight and environmental damage associated with plastic bags.
"We see them flying everywhere. They are just kind of persistent mess we have to deal with," said Laura Wright, the city's waste reduction coordinator.
The impetus for the ban started about three years ago when several residents who wanted the bags to go away asked Mayor Nancy Parent: "When are you going to come into the 21st century?"
The Chamber of Commerce asked the council hold off on giving tentative approval until the Oct. 21 meeting, but that didn't happen.
"We are not necessarily opposed to the ordinance, but would like an opportunity to get comments from our local business," said Brad Nail, who is on the chamber's board of directors and the former economic development director for Pittsburg. The chamber planned to gather those comments at its regular board meeting on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at the chamber office at 985 Railroad Ave. The city had sent out about 100 letters to local retailers that would be impacted by the ban. The California Grocers Association and two environmental groups -- Save The Bay and Save Mount Diablo -- wrote letters in support of the ban. Residents also wrote about a dozen letters, with sentiment split between supporting the ban and opposing it.
The ban would not apply to restaurants, plastic garment bags, or protective bags used for items such as fresh produce, meat, prepared foods and prescription medicine. Also, charitable organizations such as thrift stores would be exempt.
The ordinance also requires retailers to charge customers a minimum of 10 cents for a paper bag during the first year after its passage, 15 cents the second year and 25 cents the third year and beyond. Shoppers who use food stamps or Women, Infant and Children vouchers would not have to pay for paper bags.
Those fees will not go to the city but to retailers to help support marketing efforts to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags, Wright said.
Merchants who do not comply would be subject to a $100 fine for the first offense after receiving a written warning, $200 for a second offense within a year, and $500 for a third and later offense within a year.
While Alameda County banned plastic bags in January, there has not been a general ban in Contra Costa County. In June, Richmond became the first Contra Costa city to approve a ban, while El Cerrito did so in August. San Pablo and Lafayette are considering a ban. San Francisco was the first city in the country to enact a plastic bag ban when it did so in 2007.
"We are certainly not the first one (and) we are not going to be the last," Vice Mayor Sal Evola said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.