WALNUT CREEK -- With the decision by the City Council Tuesday to ban single-use plastic bags, the lone council member who opposed the action he calls government overreach vows to push ahead with a ballot initiative to let voters decide whether such a ban is necessary.

Councilman Justin Wedel, who started the petition drive, has until April 28 to gather the more than 4,000 signatures needed to put an initiative on the November ballot.

"I am confident that the community will be able to collect the necessary signatures," Wedel said, noting that a team of volunteers is working to block "this type of bad public policy."

With Wedel the lone "no" vote, the other four council members decided to ban single-use carryout plastic bags covering all restaurants and retail stores, including supermarkets and pharmacies. The new law will require stores to charge a bag fee from 10 to 25 cents for each paper bag used, to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags.

There are exceptions in the law that allow paper and plastic bags without handles for meat, produce, dry-cleaned clothes, prepared foods and prescription medications.

The ban for all stores goes into effect in September. But because restaurants were originally exempt from the ban before the council opted to include them, eateries have until December to comply. Restaurants will also not charge for the use of paper takeout bags.


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If Wedel's ballot initiative is successful, a ban for most stores could go into effect September and be overturned by city voters just two months later.

"The up-and-down stream effects of these bans far outweigh any potential benefits that will see," Wedel said. "If staff can come back to the council and propose something that does not have the adverse effect on our community members, our businesses or even our environment, then my opinion may change."

His colleagues clearly disagree, with Mayor Pro Tem Bob Simmons saying this ban is in the public's interest, specifically to get litter out of the waste stream.

"There is no question that when government acts, government has an impact on what each of us might do, but it is very important that government act affirmatively to protect the public good ... and I think that is what we are doing here tonight," Simmons said.

Others letters to the council, and some who spoke Tuesday, said instead of the council instituting such a ban there should be a vote.

And a plastic bags referendum isn't the only one Wedel seeks to place on the November ballot. He is also behind an initiative petition to overturn a portion of the city's secondhand-smoking law passed in October. Specifically, he wants to undo the ban on smoking inside multifamily homes.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

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