City Council will meet to discuss plastic bag ban, parking

Diego Cruz

City Council will meet today to discuss more than 50 different issues facing Austin, including a potential ban on plastic bags, changing city council election dates and delaying implementation of a new schedule for parking meters.

One important item the council will discuss is the reduction of single-use retail plastic bags within city limits, according to the meeting agenda.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who sponsored this item, said Austin residents use approximately 363 million plastic bags every year, which cost the city nearly $850,000 to dispose of annually.

“It’s a recommendation for a comprehensive end of plastic bags within the city,” Leffingwell said.

City Manager Marc Ott will be directed to generate an ordinance that will provide a widespread phaseout of single-use bags in the city after discussion with retail stakeholders and concerned citizens, according to supplementary information on the city’s website.

The council enacted a similar voluntary program in the past that attempted to halve the use of plastic bags but only reduced the number of discarded bags by 20 to 30 percent, said Andrew Moore, policy aide to council member Mike Martinez who co-sponsored the item. Moore said the numbers soon returned to normal, mainly as a result of pushback from retailers.

“[The item] will try to bring together the stakeholders, big retailers, environmental groups and everyone involved to come up with an ordinance that says we will ban these types of plastic bags and to figure out all the details,” he said.

The council will also consider approving a resolution to investigate the administrative costs of both moving city elections to November 2012 and keeping them in May, according to the agenda.

A bill passed during the most recent legislative session adjusted timing requirements for federal primary elections and allows the city to move municipal elections to November in order to increase voter turnout.

Postponing city elections would conflict with the May re-election of four council members and require extending their terms for six months, said council member and item sponsor Laura Morrison. However, Travis County is already planning to move their elections to November, so it may be more beneficial to keep the two together.

“This is a resolution to ask the city manager to evaluate all our options and come back with information on the alternatives and their feasibility and cost,” Morrison said.

City Council will also consider creating the Charter Revision Committee to gather public input and provide recommendations regarding plans to switch to single-member districts and other charter amendments.

“There will be 15 members, three appointed by me and two appointed by council members,” Leffingwell said.

He said the committee would make recommendations on the size of districts, the construction of district lines and amendment language after seeking input from a number of citizens and organizations.

“It would be a significant change in our governing structure so it’s a very important issue,” Morrison said.

Council members will also consider a resolution to delay the implementation of extending parking meter hours downtown from Sept. 6 to Jan. 1. Morrison, who sponsored the bill, said the council may postpone making the decision, but she believes the later implementation date is necessary.

“My concern is that we haven’t done an adequate job yet of really hearing all of the issues of how extending the parking meters will affects folks that live and use downtown,” Morrison said in a separate interview in July.

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: City Council may ban plastic bag use