The Homer City Council is contemplating a ban on thin single-use plastic bags. The move would follow other communities that have passed similar ordinances. But this isn’t the first time the council has dabbled with the issue, setting up yet another contentious debate over the role of city government in Homer.
The bag ban that was introduced Monday is largely the same ordinance city council members passed back in 2012.
The ban would prohibit retailers from providing plastic bags thinner than 2.25 mils, which supporters argue would incentivize storeowners to either eliminate plastic bags entirely or provide thicker bags that can be reused. However, the ordinance does provide retailers with a list of exceptions such as bags for frozen foods or fresh produce.
The original ban stayed on the books for less than a year and a citizens’ initiative later repealed the ordinance. Former Homer resident Justin Arnold led that charge and reminded current council members – all of which are serving their first terms – that voters spoke on the issue back in 2013.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t go farther than tonight. I don’t really want to spend the time to do another repeal,” he said. “I moved out of the city. I live in Anchor Point now, but I still own property in town and can move right back in to do it.”
The initiative Arnold led argued that protecting the environment is not the city council’s role, an argument Homer residents are familiar with. Similar disagreements about the purpose of the council led to a contentious attempt to recall three city council members in 2017 and a clash over a mayoral proclamation declaring June pride month earlier this year.
Some council members agreed that voters had already settled the issue.
“The citizens overturned the plastic bag ban by a substantial margin, a huge margin: 56 to 44 percent. Many people would deem that as a mandate,” Council member Tom Stroozas said.
Council member Heath Smith echoed Stroozas, but they did put some stock in public comments, most of which were in favor of revisiting the ban.
But both Stroozas and Smith ultimately voted against introducing the ordinance, and they were not swayed from their stance that Homer residents should revisit the issue, not the council.
“I went back and I read the minutes. It was by and large people that sat and testified that were in favor of the plastic bag ban,” Smith explained. “There’s no questioning that, but when it went to a vote, it did not play out the same way.”
Council member Caroline Venuti sponsored the ordinance, and she acknowledges the results of the 2013 referendum.
Venuti is largely concerned about a growing amount of research on microplastics working their way into seafood. She argued that waiting another year to let voters weigh in would amount to standing on the sidelines as other communities take action.
“I’m doing this because I think the timing is right now, and I think we’ve been educated enough and we’ve seen enough damage,” she added.
The council did introduce the ordinance in a 4-2 vote, and it also voted to hold two public hearings on the issue, the first of which will be on Oct. 8. The council is set to hold the second hearing and vote on the ordinance at its meeting on Oct. 22.