Huntington Beach Teabaggers Want their Plastic Bags Back! (I’m sorry, they want the CHOICE.)

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First off, am I a bad man?  A hypocrite, a holder of double standards?

I’m just sayin’, because generally I’m always agitating for more democracy, direct democracy, bring this burning matter to a vote of the people, the people will decide right!  Examples – I said let Californians have the chance to vote on a temporary tax increase, whether you want it yourself or not!  I said, let Anaheim voters decide if they want to give away more tax incentives to millionaires, and whether they want to elect their council by districts or not!  And I say, let the folks who drive on the 405 and pay taxes to improve it decide if they want their money diverted to impose toll lanes on themselves!

And yet … when it comes to tonight’s decision – whether to let Huntington Beach voters decide whether or not they want HB merchants to once again be able to hand them all the plastic bags their hearts desire – I feel a little unenthused, a little ambivalent.  So – do I have a double standard, just because of my support for the plastic-bag ban?  Should I be consistent, and support the bringing of EVERY contentious issue to a vote of We The People?  Or are SOME issues best left to REPRESENTATIVE democracy?

Joe Shaw (on right) bringing Christmas presents for veterans’ kids to Johnny’s Saloon last December. (Bartender at left.)

These concerns roiled my head, as I sat with my old friend HB Mayor Pro-Tem Joe Shaw outside the groovy new Starbucks on Edinger across from Bella Terra.  Since November in this town, most retailers are not allowed to hand out plastic carryout bags. The March 2013 ordinance allows stores to provide a recyclable paper bag to customers – but there’s a 10 cent charge.   Apparently there’s a counter-movement afoot now to put that ordinance up to a popular vote featuring fire-pits hero Chris Epting as spokesman and including  the ever-aggrieved Johnny’s Saloon (veterans sign as always intact and unmolested if you were wondering).  And at tonight’s meeting they will be asking the Council to put the question onto November’s ballot.

“So… let me see if I’ve got this straight,”  I began.  “There’s a movement, of… I won’t say conservatives, but reactionaries – kneejerk anti-government people, probably funded by some of the larger merchants who want to go back to using plastic – “

“NO, NO, NO, Vern,” interrupted the acerbic pro-tem.  “Just listen.  There are NO merchants who want to go back to plastic bags.  It’s just a small group of tea-partiers, who think this is all about free-dumb, fighting back against supposed Big Government, and probably a good way to attack the councilpeople who supported the ban, who are mostly Democrats.  Most people in this town support the ban.  E-mails to council have been seven-to-one in favor of keeping it.  Apparently there’s seven times as many Surfrider types in this town as there are Tea Party types.”

Some opponents of the plastic bag ban are threatening to take the issue to the streets.

“Well – then it shouldn’t be a big deal, should it?  The ban will win.  Why shouldn’t the people vote?  As a devil’s advocate I ask of course…”

“Well, no, it’s not a real big deal, and it WOULD win, but it’s just a waste of everyone’s time, and a waste of $6444 of taxpayer money. That’s how much it would cost to put this question on the ballot.  In 2010 Connie (Boardman) and I ran on this issue and we won easily.  Then in 2012 Jill (Hardy) and Jim Katapodis also ran on the issue and won easily.  This thing’s already been to council 8 times.  If people want to go back to their plastic bags, they can just vote me and Connie out of office in November, and save $6444.  But whatever.”

It would be a lot of work for the folks who love plastic bags want to decide for themselves on plastic bags to gather the 18,000 signatures they’d need to put their referendum on the ballot the traditional way, and who knows if they could even get that many?  It’s obviously a much easier effort to convince a four-member majority of the council – the four Republicans – to put it on themselves.  They already HAD three of them (Harper, Sullivan, Carchio) – they had them at “It’s a Democrat thing!”  As so often, it’s gonna come down to good old Jim Katapodis, the Justice Kennedy of this Council, who at this point is stammering, “I still support the ban, but I haven’t decided on the vote!”

Adding to the pointlessness of this exercise, it’s looking almost certain that plastic bags are going to be banned statewide by November anyway.  A compromise with a couple LA assemblymen representing districts in which the manufacture of plastic bags provides buku jobs, a compromise funding the conversion of those factories into creators of re-usable bags, will allow our great state to seriously reduce this huge pollutant of the sea and land, while making this HB teabag move into a noisy and pointless wank.

What I’m saying is, look to your muskets, friends, you might want to keep your powder dry on this one.  And also, heat-packin’ Jim K, stick to your guns, brother.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.