11:15am | Following controversy and praise — including a vehement letter from a young Republican sent to the Long Beach Post last year decrying the unconstitutionality of the Long Beach’s own ordinance — it was announced today in ruling by Judge James C. Chalfant in Los Angeles Superior Court, Department 85 that the constitutionality of the Los Angeles County’s plastic and paper carryout bag ordinance will be upheld. 

A similar ordinance went into full effect here in Long Beach — along with ones in San Jose, Santa Monica, and Palo Alto — on August 1 of last year following a decision by the City Council in May to ban plastic bags and charge 10 cents per paper bag used by a consumer; the ordinance was expanded to smaller businesses on January 1 of this year, 

Since the measure took effect in July, retailers have seen a 94% reduction in the distribution of single-use bags in unincorporated areas — the only areas effected by the ordinance — according to preliminary analysis by the county’s Department of Public Works.  

Petitioners in Schmeer vs. County of Los Angeles – who include Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in South Carolina who submitted the writ – claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional under Proposition 26; specifically, that the ordinance’s ten-cent charge per paper bag constituted an improper tax which should have been voted upon by the entire county electorate. In shorter terms: the county was making money from a tax not properly voted in.

However, Judge Chalfant ruled that Proposition 26 was intended to apply to measures which specifically generated revenue —and that the county’s Plastic and Paper Carryout Bag Ordinance did not generate revenue for the county since the retailers collect the money; nor did it meet the “special tax” definition since no portion of the ten-cent charge per paper bag is collected and spent by Los Angeles County to pay for any public program.

This decision will help strengthen other cities’ fight to ban bags to curb environmental waste — which is estimated to cost California municipalities some $25 million a year just to collect and dispose of plastic waste — most of whose efforts to do have have been halted due to legal threat from bag manufacturers. The City of Los Angeles plans to enact its plastic bag ban in the upcoming weeks.

Mark Daniels, Vice President Sustainability & Environmental Policy for Hilex Poly released the following statement:

“This case is far from resolved. Typically an issue that sets an important tax precedent moves forward in the courts, and we expected this case to be heard in the appellate court. We welcome an open debate about bag bans and taxes, but in this case, the county overreached by imposing a charge that is illegal and a hidden tax, exactly what Proposition 26 intended to stop. Proposition 26 was implemented to counter situations where taxes are labeled by the local government as ‘fees’ in order to circumvent the electoral process. By imposing a bag tax on its residents without a public vote, LA County violated the constitution, and we are confident in our case as it moves to the appellate courts.”

James Parrinello, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, released the following statement to the Post:

“It can be difficult to have ordinances declared unconstitutional in the Superior Court. We always expected this case to be decided at the appellate level, and are confident the appellate courts will uphold the will of the people as expressed in Proposition 26, which protects Californians from hidden taxes levied by local governments without a vote of the people.  We anticipate the appellate courts will ultimately strike down the illegal bag tax imposed by L.A. County.”

NOTE: Mr. Daniels’s and Mr. Parrinello’s statement was added after Hilex Poly contacted the Long Beach Post with their statement following the original publication of the article; we felt it necessary to include their view.