Culver City News
February 16, 2012
By Gary Walker
Council contenders say yea on ban of plastic bags
Five of the six city council candidates stated publicly recently that they were supportive of banning single-use plastic bags in Culver city, one of the few remaining Westside charter cities that has yet to pursue legislative action on prohibiting the sale of plastic bags.
The council contenders were presented with a series of questions at the Culver City Democratic Club on Feb. 8, and one of the questions directed to Scott Malsin was did he support a prohibition on plastic bag sales. (Full disclosure: the author of this article served as the forum moderator.) Malsin, who is a member of Culver City based The Ballona Creek Renaissance, answered in the affirmative.
The other candidates – Stephen Murray, Meghan Sahli-Wells, James Clarke and incumbent councilman Andrew Weissman subsequently offered their views in favor of such a ban.
Mayor Micheal O’Leary did not take part in the forum due to club rules that permit only registered Democrats to participate in candidate debates.
O’Leary is registered as “declined to state.”
There are four seats up for grabs in the April 10 municipal election.
The contenders’ responses were well received by Lisa Fimiani, a Culver City resident who is also the executive director of the environmental organization The Friends of the Ballona Wetlands.
“We are totally supportive of politicians who are in favor of banning plastic bags,” said Fimiani.
Fimiani said her organization has seen the effects that plastic has on wetlands wildlife as well as in the Ballona Creek which runs through Culver City.
None of Culver City’s elected leaders had individually advocated for or spoken in favor of a ban prior to the candidate forum.
More than 40 cities throughout the state have enacted prohibitions on the sale of these single-use bags, and Los Angeles County instituted its ban on Nov. 16, 2010.
A state Supreme Court ruling last year allowed Manhattan Beach to implement its ban on plastic bags, joining other beach communities.
Stephen Joseph, council for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said while the court upheld Manhattan Beach’s right to outlaw the sale of single-use bags, there are some bright spots for his client.
“The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition has legal standing to file California Environmental Quality Action actions. This is a very significant aspect of the [court] decision,” he said in a statement. “It means that under certain circumstances, businesses can challenge ‘green’ projects that may do more harm than good to the environment.”
In some elections, a single campaign issue can become a vehicle that can help propel certain candidates into office. In 2008, the Friends of Culver City Animals organization issued questionnaires to the eight candidates who were seeking office and assigned. One question asked if they would back the creation and hiring of an animal services officer, something that the animal organization had been advocating for several years.
The candidates that answered unequivocally-councilman Christopher Armenta and O’Leary- won election.
While there is no concrete evidence that the support from the animal advocacy organization was the key to Armenta and O’Leary winning, some feel supporting a ballot initiative or a specific policy position can make the difference in a close race.
Friends of Culver City Animals president Deborah Weinrach does not believe that support for the officer was the only reason that Armenta and O’Leary won, but she thinks it played a significant difference in the race.
“Our members take voting very seriously, and as an organization we decided to support only those candidates who would support (creating the position of an animal services officer),” Weinrach said.
Together with former councilman Gary Silbiger, a long-time supporter of Culver City having its own officer, O’Leary and Armenta voted to create the position of animal services officer.
While Fimiani is happy that the council candidates stated they would be in favor of ban on plastic, she is taking a wait- and-see approach.
“It’s an easy thing to say,” she pointed out. “It will be interesting to see if they actually vote for it.”
Fimiani said she had heard that certain businesses in Culver City were not in favor of a ban and wondered if that was a factor in the council’s inaction.
“I know that there are a number of food packaging businesses in Culver City that would probably not support a ban on plastic bags,” she said.
City Attorney Carol Schwab told the News last summer that her office hoped to bring a proposed ordinance before the council by mid-September last year.
At the candidates forum, Weinrach asked the contenders if they would continue to support the position of the animal services officer. Unequivocally, they all said they would.