City Council weighs putting plastic bag ban on next year's ballot

Oct 9, 2018

Credit Image Courtesy of the City of Homer

The Homer City Council is considering putting a plastic bag ban on the ballot in 2019. The ban was introduced last month, a divisive measure that was implemented and subsequently overturned by a citizens’ initiative about five years ago. But the council’s discussion Monday focused less on the ban itself and more on whether the council should consider the issue at all. 

Council member Caroline Venuti sponsored the ban on thin single-use plastic bags last month. The ban mirrors the ordinance that was overturned in 2013.

On Monday night, she spoke strongly in favor of addressing plastic bags’ harmful effect on the environment. However, she says after hearing residents on both sides of the issue, she will no longer support the council passing the ban in its current form.  

" In the coming year, it's my hope the city council will review the manner in which other Alaska communities, of which there are five right now, are addressing this issue and see if we can come up with our own unique way to deal with this problem that's in the best interest of all of us, the Homer community, she said.  "Then we can place this issue on the ballot for the voters to decide."

Venuti said she wants to hammer out the details long before the municipal election next fall in an effort to battle misinformation about the effect of plastic bags.

“I don't think there's any reason for this to become divisive, and I think with good education, really good PR, lots of preparation and some innovative ideas, it could be very, very successful," she said. 

In 2012, the Homer City Council passed a similar plastic bag ban. But it was in place for less than a year before a citizen’s initiative repealed it.

However, when the latest ban was introduced during the council’s last meeting, one of the main organizers of the initiative said any measure would meet the same fate if passed by the council or if one was to be placed on the ballot.  

Council member Heath Smith has pushed back against the council approving the ordinance on its own and previously said that the issue should be put on the ballot if it is to be revisited.

But on Monday, Smith suggested the council should stray from the issue completely.

“I think that if this community feels differently now, then they should repeal their own action, " he said. "This isn't about us failing to lead. This is about us honoring what our community has chosen to do."

Council member Donna Aderhold said taking action shouldn’t be solely up to the residents.

"The people of Homer have expressed to us that they are interested in us addressing this issue," she said. "I think they're asking us to take this on and so I believe that we should take this on. What form that takes, what that ballot measure might look like, that is certainty up for discussion. " 

Nearly a dozen residents testified on the ban. Most spoke in favor of it.

The council will hold another public hearing on the ordinance and will likely vote it down on Oct. 22. It’s unclear when the council may revisit the issue.