has rescinded a plan to impose a 5-cent fee on all paper bags handed out at its four stores in Marin, saying it was confused about the applicability of the that goes into effect Jan. 1.
The grocery chain, with two stores in Mill Valley and one apiece in San Rafael and Novato, posted signs last week (pictured at right) at its stores notifying customers that it would be charging 5 cents per paper bag as of today.
In doing so, it cited the plastic bag ban ordinance last January. The ordinance includes the 5-cent fee as a way to discourage customers from simply transitioning from plastic bags to paper bags once the plastic ban goes into effect.
But the county ordinance only applies to retail markets in unincorporated Marin - the in Strawberry but not on Camino Alto in Mill Valley, for instance. For a similar plastic bag ban to go into effect at stores within city limits, each respective city council would need to pass its own ordinance.
Dori Beron, the manager of the Whole Foods on East Blithedale, said the stores took down the signs after realizing that the county ban wouldn’t apply to Whole Foods’ four stores in Marin.
“It was unclear to us and we pulled the signs down,” she said. “We don’t want to impose the fee unless we have to.”
Mill Valley City Councilman Ken Wachtel said he received a number of complaints about the signs from residents who supported the ban but knew the county’s ordinance didn’t apply to Whole Foods’ stores in Mill Valley. He said he had no problem if Whole Foods chose to impose a paper bag fee on its own.
“The pricing of bags in their stores is completely in their hands,” he said. “They just can’t justify it on the county ordinance because it doesn’t apply. That seemed a little wrong and didn’t make sense.”
The bag ban isn’t likely to get passed by city councils soon. The Mill Valley City Council to wait before passing its own ordinance because of the over the county’s ban.
The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition after the board approved the ban, and despite a Marin Superior Court ruling in September that threw out the group’s attempt to block the ban, the organization’s founder and attorney Stephen Joseph appealed the ruling Nov. 29. He must file an appellate brief in February.
At the Mill Valley City Council’s meeting in November, several residents asked the council not to wait until the coalition’s lawsuit against the county is resolved. Maureen Parton, aide to and , who before his passing in March, encouraged the council to move ahead with its own ordinance before January.
Parton said retail markets in unincorporated Marin will be at a disadvantage if nearby stores within city limits offered plastic bags and they did not. Mill Valley Market and the two Whole Foods Markets in Mill Valley don’t offer carryout plastic bags, so the focus of a ban within city limits would be on the drug stores and Safeway at Camino Alto (None of the proposed bans focus on the plastic bags provided for produce and bulk items, however).
Although the county's ban doesn't apply to Mill Valley Market, the downtown store increased the credit it gives to customers for each full-sized bag they reuse at the store - from 5 cents to 10 cents per bag.
"Please bring in your own bags and/or reuse ours," the market's owners wrote to its customers. "It is good for all of us."
Mill Valley City Councilwoman Shawn Marshall, a plastic bag ban proponent, commended Whole Foods for trying to be consistent at its stores but said they “jumped the gun.” She said the council is anxious to pass its own plastic bag ban once the lawsuit is brought to a conclusion.
“I understand why we need to take a prudent approach on this and wait until some of the legal issues that tend to be costly get resolved,” she said. “But I’m also very interested, as are my colleagues, in advancing this as soon as that pathway is cleared.”