LAFAYETTE -- A group of Lafayette residents want the city to become the first in Contra Costa to ban single-use plastic bags -- and they're hoping the county will follow suit.
Members of the Lafayette Environmental Task Force formally asked the City Council this week to consider passing a law that would prohibit single-use plastic checkout bags at stores and restaurants in order to help the city reach a goal that echoes a state mandate of 75 percent solid waste diversion by 2020.
They are also asking that businesses charge a fee for paper bags, but withhold it for people receiving government assistance. If approved, the ban would go into effect Jan. 1.
Should Lafayette nix the bags, it would join more than 70 cities and counties in the state that have some form of plastic bag ban or ordinance, including Alameda, Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. A proposed Contra Costa ordinance is on hold.
"Here in Lafayette, we have a really unique opportunity to be the first in Contra Costa County," said task force member Eve Nichelini. "Why are we lagging behind every single other county in the Bay Area?"
The request comes on the heels of two bills recently introduced in the state Legislature that would ban plastic bags. SB 405 and AB 158 would banish the bags from supermarkets and drugstores by 2015, and from convenience stores by 2016.
It also came the same day a plastic bag ban went into effect in San Mateo County. Lawmakers there are requiring businesses to charge 10 cents to provide shoppers with paper and other reusable bags. That fee will increase to 25 cents on Jan. 1, 2015.
In Lafayette, the environmental task force is recommending a 25-cent charge and is requesting shoppers in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program or receiving food stamps be exempted.
The suggested fee is raising some concern among business owners and developers, including La Fiesta Square and Lafayette Mercantile developer Steve Cortese who said that while he has a "somewhat open mind" about the ban, he opposes forcing retailers to charge for paper bags.
Jay Lifson, executive director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, said some merchants are also questioning the possible fee, and wonder if the community could eschew plastic bags without an ordinance.
At Monday's meeting, the task force also warned officials that the city would most likely receive challenges to the ban but said other ordinances have passed legal muster and environmental review.
"Please don't be bullied by the last gasp of a dying industry. We want to ask you to stand strong for the environment and leave a lasting legacy of sustainability for Lafayette," Nichelini said.
While city leaders agreed to consider placing the ban on the planning department's list of priorities, they stopped short of asking the staff to write an ordinance.
Councilman Mark Mitchell said he needed more information before proceeding, and Councilwoman Traci Reilly said she's not yet comfortable with banning bags at eateries amid worries that bacteria from unwashed bags could lead to foodborne illness that would be blamed on restaurants.
The council will discuss the ban again May 13.
Jennifer Modenessi covers Lamorinda. Contact her at 925-943-8378.