Legal, Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans
June 03 2015

Huntington Beach Sued Over Bag Ban Repeal

by Angela Howe

Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the Huntington Beach/Seal Beach Chapter, along with Orange County Coastkeeper and Californians Against Waste are suing the City of Huntington Beach for their bag ban repeal ordinance, which lacked proper environmental review and public engagement, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The lawsuit was filed today in Superior Court in Orange County, CA.

The City was the first in California to repeal their local bag ban ordinance by a vote on May 4, 2015. (Note that there are over 130 local jurisdictions covered by a bag ban in California).  Surfrider Foundation Huntington Beach/Seal Beach Chapter was a staunch supporter of the original bag ban and helped usher it into existence.  The original ban was enacted in 2013 after almost two years of review and consideration by the City Council, including a full Environmental Impact Report of this pro-environmental legislation.  When four new members of the City Council took office this year and agendized a repeal of the ban, the local environmental community also vociferously opposed the idea.  However, the City Council hastily pushed through the Repeal Ordinance without analysis of how the action will affect the City’s natural environment, aesthetics and coastal economy.  The Plaintiff groups contend that the City has violated the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) with this action.

CEQA requires entities take all actions necessary to protect the environmental quality of the state and that activities undertaken or regulated by state agencies be conducted in a manner such that “major consideration is given to preventing environmental damage...” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000, subd. (a) and (g).) Here, the City failed to meet the most basic necessary requirements of environmental review under CEQA.  They issued a mere 10-page Addendum to support the Repeal Ordinance, which relied heavily on the EIR for the original bag ban.  However, when the original EIR for the pro-environment bag ban was written in 2013, there was a different environmental baseline to evaluate.  In 2015, the City should have analyzed how the Repeal Ordinance would affect the environment now, under an environmental setting with the bag ban in effect.  The City should have also analyzed the effects of the additional 99 million single-use plastic bags that will be introduced into the environment (as conceded on p. 2 of the Addendum).  The City cannot rely upon an EIR for the original bag ban to analyze the opposite effects as a result of reversing said ban.  They City tries to equate the repeal to the “no project alternative” originally evaluated years ago in the EIR.  Under CEQA, the City must evaluate all current significant effects of the proposed repeal, including effects to water quality, marine life, waste generation, and biological resources.

Additionally, the Addendum was not circulated publicly for comment and was only made available five days before the City Council vote on the repeal.  This indicates that the City did not intend to solicit or address comments made by the public on the environmental review.  Surfrider Foundation members and staff gave testimony to the City Council at both the first and second readings of the Repeal Ordinance. However, participants were required to speak during the general comments period of the May 4, 2015 meeting and the many cogent points and arguments, including those brought forth in this suit, presented by Surfrider and other environmental advocates were not addressed at all by the City.

The City of Huntington Beach takes a giant step backwards in terms of  environmental protection by passing this Repeal Ordinance.  And under the law, they may not do so until they disclose and consider the environmental consequences of that action and feasible alternatives to it, as well as permit the public to comment upon that analysis. Anything less fails to live up to CEQA’s mandates.

Note: The Sierra Club Orange County Group is also supportive of this suit.