Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
After the Aug. 14 approval of an Ojai retailer’s one-year exemption to the city’s plastic bag ban, officials find themselves still clarifying the two-month old moratorium.
Ojai Community Development Director Rob Mullane granted Rains an exemption that gives him up to one year to distribute his bags. Starr Market owner Terry Starr said recently that he asked city staff to allow him an exemption and was told his store did not qualify.
Rains is a speciality department store that carries housewares and clothing in addition to some grocery items.
“The rationale for granting Rains the exemption was primarily that their bags are more likely to be re-used. They are thicker — the largest bags they distribute meet the 2.25 mils thickness criterion for being exempt from the ordinance, and their smaller bags are close to this threshold — and because of their more durable and attractive design, they are likely to be re-used,” clarified community development director Rob Mullane. “Rains’ request also indicated that they would only need approximately three months to go through their remaining inventory of plastic bags, and that beyond that, they would be using paper bags.”
The ordinance, passed by the Council April 10, went into effect July 1. It applies to single-use, plastic, carry out bags — also called “t-shirt bags.” Exemptions to the t-shirt bag ban, according to Mullane, include restaurants that use the t-shirt bags for takeout food and the Saint Thomas Aquinas Thrift Store, which gives it customers only bags that have been used previously.
Mullane said that in 2013, the Council will review the ordinance. At that time, he added, the staff will be recommending thrift stores be given a categorical exemption.
If switching to paper or reusable bags creates a hardship for local business owners, they are able to seek a one-year exemption to make necessary adjustments. The Ojai municipal code grants this discretionary power to city staff. There is a standing item on the Ojai Planning Commission meeting agendas to inform commissioners of decisions made and planning permits granted by city staff and the community development director. “The threshold for discretionary review of planning projects is set forth in several sections of the Zoning Code. In general, the more complex or potentially controversial a project is, the greater the chance that this needs to be reviewed by the Planning Commission or City Council,” clarified Mullane.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for further delineation of staff vs. Council roles, and for more information on the ordinance banning the distribution of plastic single-use carry out bags in Ojai.