Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bob Dunning: Mixed signals on our bagless future


From page A2 | June 29, 2014 |

As we move ever closer to our toughest-in-the-nation plastic bag ban (if we’re not No. 1, why do it?), the city is sending out conflicting messages in an apparent attempt to “educate” the unwashed masses of this town.

Just last Friday, as an “Environmental update,” The Enterprise ran a city of Davis communiqué under the headline “Be prepared to pay for carryout bags.”

It explained that even restaurants are not exempt from the July 1 start date for the ordinance, although “plastic bags can still be provided for soups and other foods that may spill or drip.”

I’m not sure where spaghetti and meatballs fits into this take-out scenario, but I can see a confrontation brewing when an unsuspecting Davis diner encounters an officer from the DPBBFP (Davis Plastic Bag Ban Food Police) as the diner heads home from his favorite downtown restaurant.

“What’s in the bag, sir?”

“Spaghetti and meatballs.”

“That requires a paper bag, sir. It’s right here in Section 22, Item 4-b. I’m going to have to write you up.”

“But my order of spaghetti and meatballs was especially spilly and drippy. According to Section 11, Item 12-a, I’m entitled to a plastic bag free of charge.”

“No, this restaurant’s menu says the sauce on their spaghetti and meatballs is “extra thick,” which means it’s not considered spilly or drippy under Exception 16-z. Not only am I required to give you a ticket, I must confiscate your food as a public health hazard. Please place your hands behind your back.”

“But, but …”

“Do I need to call for backup?”

In addition to last Friday’s Enterprise article, I have in front of me an email distributed several months ago by someone billed as the “City of Davis Public Works Conservation Coordinator.” I realize that’s a lot of information to fit on a business card, but that’s what the email says, so that’s what I’m going with.

Because I do not enjoy Most Favored Nation status with the city of Davis, I did not personally receive this particular email, but it was forwarded to me by a member of my vast network of spies who have infiltrated the very highest levels of city government.

It appears to have been forwarded from something called the “City of Davis Toad Hollow Dog Park Email List Subscription,” which is clearly code for something else, given that the Most Relevant City in America would never have an email list with such a silly name.

“Please consider the environment before printing this email,” it asks politely, so I stepped outside, gazed at the clear blue sky, then came back inside and printed it. Still, there’s little question that printing this simple email caused the world’s entire population of polar bears to migrate another mile south.

“As you may already have heard,” the email begins, “in November 2013, the Davis City Council passed Ordinance #2422, the Single-Use Carryout Bags Ordinance, to reduce the distribution of single-use carryout bags and promote the use of reusable bags at all retail stores, restaurants and take-out food establishments in Davis.”

No more bagging your baguette, Mrs. Robinson.

“On and after July 1, 2014 single-use plastic carryout bags cannot be distributed to customers at retail stores and restaurants.”

I think you already said that. And we get your message loud and clear. Untold sea birds are flying in circles around Davis at this very moment because their heads are stuck inside Walmart bags and that’s bad for our image, even if Dixon and Woodland are the main culprits here.

We all understand that plastic bags are bad for people and dogs and cats and ocean-going mammals and pretty much the entire world.

They contribute to global warming, crop failure, the decline of the American family, cracked pavement on Covell Boulevard and the Broncos’ inability to win the Super Bowl. They are bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

Of course, “Non-profit reuse stores are exempt from the ordinance, as are customers paying with WIC, SNAP or CalFresh food stamps,” since studies show that whales, dolphins, seagulls and those cute-as-a-bunny river otters specifically eschew, rather than chew, plastic bags from these sources.

To be clear, I believe the WIC, SNAP and CalFresh folks — plus anyone shopping with money borrowed from Uncle Harry — are exempt only from having to pay a dime for a paper bag, not from the entire ordinance altogether.

All of which makes the next sentence in this top-secret Toad Hollow Dog Park communiqué such a complete head-scratcher.

“Since plastic bags will be harder to come by starting in July, you may want to start saving your bread bags, produce bags, sandwich bags, and all other plastic bags for doggie duty!”

All other plastic bags? Now wait a minute. I thought we were trying to eliminate plastic bags, not hoard them.

In other words, this city official seems to be saying that even though Davis is banning plastic bags as the malevolent items that they are, we realize that dog owners in this town desperately need plastic bags so they don’t have to handle their canines’ end product with their bare hands.

So it turns out plastic bags are a bit of a necessity after all.

Maybe it’s time to revisit this ordinance in the next 48 hours and add one more blanket exception for yet another class of beleaguered Davisites: dog owners.

— Reach Bob Dunning at


Discussion | 15 comments

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  • One World OrderJune 29, 2014 - 2:18 am

    The DPBBFP (Davis Plastic Bag Ban Food Police) will say that you violated an ordinance that has nothing to do with plastic bags (a new Yolo County Court House doesn't build itself - it has to be done arbitrary and capriciously),... and the DPBBFP will be there because they were wiretapping your cellphone and knew you'd be there... And the Referee will change your infraction to another infraction "to make the case" even though you didn't violate that one either...and then bribery and undue influence will ensue to maintain the coarse of illegal acts against yourself... I knew I should have ordered the PIGS in a Blanket... But maybe if the soup is thick as thieves and your a Facebook friend you can get away with it....

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  • KDJune 29, 2014 - 6:20 am

    What's even more shocking to me is this almost bankrupt town has a “City of Davis Public Works Conservation Coordinator" on its payroll.

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  • Noreen MazelisJune 29, 2014 - 1:02 pm

    I'm with you, KD. This city sure knows how to waste our tax dollars on seriously nonessential personnel.

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  • Rich RifkinJune 30, 2014 - 2:29 pm

    The conservation coordinator job comes with an annual salary of a bit more than $72,000. If you add in approximate amounts for health care ($22,000), retiree health ($20,000), employer pension funding ($14,000), and other costs ($12,000), you get a total annual expense of roughly $138,000, which, fortunately, is a lot less than many other city jobs.

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  • Mike HenleJune 30, 2014 - 6:36 pm

    KD, you beat me to it! I can't believe this is a discussion, but only in Davis, it is.

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  • joe cheyJune 29, 2014 - 7:29 am

    Sort of silly really. Most all products we purchase is packaged in plastic containers such as milk, water, etc. Grandfather says that back in his day retailers used paper bags, free of charge, or used boxes that products came in to be stocked on store shelves to pack customer purchases. This was long before plastic anything. He says liquids were in glass bottles and other products in cardboard containers. There was no Styrofoam cups but paper cups for coffee. Family plans to shop out of town for any products that used to be purchased here in Davis, like groceries, hardware, and more, since Davis is no longer shopper friendly.

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  • Laura CJune 29, 2014 - 8:52 am

    The ordinance does not require a charge for plastic bags used for product or bulk, or newspapers. Only time will tell if people start taking extra product and bulk bags from stores for dog waste and other needs. The ordinance also has an exception for paper bags used to protect greeting cards, per an Enterprise article last week. What lobby got that exception? It is also interesting to see how local grocery stores are approaching the new policy. Whole Foods will be donating the ten-cent bag fee to local nonprofits, which at least creates some positive ends from the ordinance. Davis Food Co-op, however, will discontinue the five-cent refund it provided to customers who bring reusable blags while retaining the ten-cent bag fee. (It has been charging five cents for bags since 2011, so the ordinance will double their funds, while they recoup more with the end of their reusable bag refund. Nickel-and diming?)

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  • Grant AJune 29, 2014 - 9:54 am

    Do single-use disposable diapers count as bags? If so, the city may soon pass an ordinance requiring parents to utilize reusable cloth diapers. By the way, this could also solve the doggie dropping dilemma.

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  • stJune 29, 2014 - 1:19 pm

    Years ago, a pediatrician recommended not using disposable diapers due to the chemicals in their manufacture. I had a chemical engineering bro. who would neither drink nor eat from anything plastic. And a lot of grocery goods can be found that are not pre-packaged in plastic. Did kind of make me stop and think.

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  • BobJune 30, 2014 - 12:25 pm

    Just another cosmic sanity check.

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  • Mark MurrayJune 30, 2014 - 5:24 pm

    LA County implemented this same policy two years ago and has been tracking the results: 254 million plastic grocery bags annually–eliminated!. Paper bags have seen about a 10% decline. Even with the 10 cent charge on paper bags, consumers in LA County are saving more than $6.3 million annually. If Davis gets the same results, consumers will realize a net savings of $377,249 every year. In addition there is the more than $100,000 in taxes we've been paying to clean up the plastic bags that blow from garbage trucks and the landfill on Road 28. Seems to me City’s Conservation Coordinator has covered her salary for the next 4-5 years.

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  • KevinJune 30, 2014 - 5:47 pm

    Yeah right Mark, I believe those numbers, and Lois Lerner's and six other IRS officials emails to the White House all magically disappeared at the same time.

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  • Rich RifkinJune 30, 2014 - 8:24 pm

    Mark, you have no idea what you are talking about. I know you are paid a lot of money as a lobbyist advocating this sort of nonsense. But please, don't pretend you have any idea what goes on on Road 28H. I've invited you before to ride out there with me any day, and you would see, as I do every time I ride there (including yesterday morning) that there are no plastic grocery bags ever on that road. You and Alan Pryor and this gang of advocates just make up lies and hope no one will notice.

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  • Sue FenwickJuly 01, 2014 - 5:30 am

    There's a loophole! Maybe Davis will start requiring dogs to wear those poop catcher slings so save the environment. Yeah! Then there can be a dog poop collection location in every parking lot....

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  • JDJuly 01, 2014 - 5:50 am

    Sue, don't give our liberal environmental zealots any ideas. I'm afraid plastic bags is just the start, next they'll be coming after takeout coffee cups, plastic knives and forks, gasoline lawn mowers and edgers, etc. This was just the start.

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