When Ron Leone was the mayor of Concord a few years ago, he contacted the mayors of Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Clayton, Pittsburg and Martinez to consider getting together on a monthly basis to discuss issues of common interest and to share how we were solving the problems in our communities.
All of the mayors agreed to meet, and Ron hosted the first meeting at Concord City Hall.
The meetings were not noticed to the public nor did they have posted agendas. They were informal get-togethers to socialize and share issues of the day. Each mayor took a turn to host the meeting in their city, usually at a local restaurant. I hosted twice.
We discussed many issues, including city/school district relationships, affordable housing requirements, budgeting, economic development, smoking ordinances and banning single-use plastic bags and polystyrene.
I found the meetings very valuable, being able to share many of the issues that I was dealing with in Martinez and receiving feedback from my colleagues in neighboring cities. I think we all discovered that although our respective communities may be very different, we are all very much the same, with the same challenges and opportunities.
One issue that grew out of this mayors' group and has spread to many cities in Contra Costa County is a plastic bag and polystyrene ban.
We were all concerned about the fact that the Water Quality board has focused on trash reduction in the new Municipal Regional Permit. Cities are required to reduce trash by 40 percent by July 1, 2014, and 70 percent by 2017, and 100 percent by 2022. To meet those requirements, we knew we had to take some bold steps.
Pittsburg was the first city from the group to adopt such an ordinance, quickly followed by Walnut Creek. Pleasant Hill is scheduled to consider the ban in July, and Martinez adopted its ban at the last council meeting.
The cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo and all of Alameda County have adopted similar ordinances. A statewide measure is currently working its way through the legislative process in Sacramento.
The Martinez ordinance is modeled after the Pittsburg and Walnut Creek ordinances. The basic elements prohibit distribution of single-use plastic bags by all retailers (this includes department stores, clothing stores, liquor stores, convenience stores, book stores, drugstores and specialty stores) and restaurants, takeout food establishments and any other business that receives 90 percent of its revenue from the sale of prepared food to be eaten on or off premises. There will be a charge of 10 cents to 25 cents for each paper bag at the point of sale.
Charitable nonprofit reuse and thrift stores are excluded, including residents receiving food stamps or in the WIC program. Protective plastic bags without handles for meat, fresh produce, prepared foods, dry-cleaned clothing, prescription medication and newspaper protective bags are also excluded from the ordinance.
During the development of this ordinance, the Martinez city staff worked with the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Martinez in order to engage the residential and business community.
Two public workshops were held and the input from those workshops was helpful in crafting an ordinance that is effective, easy to implement and understand. The Martinez ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.
Polystyrene is already prohibited as a take-home food container in Martinez, and that ban will be enforced in conjunction with this new ordinance.
Not all folks see this as a good thing for Martinez. Some residents and businesses believe it is an intrusion into their right of free choice that will also cost them more money.
I agree that there may be an additional cost to the shopping public if one forgets to bring their reusable bags to the store, but over time, habits will change and most of us will not even think twice about not grabbing that reusable bag from the trunk of our car.
Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at email@example.com.