A group of North County residents and I first spoke to the Carlsbad City Council about the plastic pollution problem during a Council meeting in February 2019. That evening, Council Members voted unanimously to place single-use plastics on the legislative platform. We subsequently began working with Council Member Priya Bhat-Patel to move a single-use plastic (SUP) reduction ordinance forward.
To raise awareness among the business community, Bhat-Patel hosted a sustainability fair at Legoland. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit a couple of months later and progress in Carlsbad and all of North County San Diego came to an abrupt standstill. However, in spite of the temporary set back, we continued to work together.
In June 2020, Council Member Bhat-Patel and Representative Mike Levin among others were virtual panelists for a local screening of “The Story of Plastic” hosted on Zoom by a coalition of environmental organizations, including Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego Chapter.
As state-level COVID-19 restrictions finally started to loosen last summer, the Vista City Council unanimously adopted a single-use plastic ordinance championed by Council Member Corinna Contreras who had previously invited Brady Bradshaw (from Oceana) and me (as a resident of Vista and representative of Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics committee) to do a presentation for the Council.
In June 2021, Vista became the first inland city in San Diego County to enact a SUP ordinance, which included a phase-out of polystyrene serviceware (StyrofoamTM) along with a “Skip the Stuff” component, requiring that straws, stirrers, utensils, etc. be provided only upon request.
Then in October 2021, the San Marcos City Council also voted unanimously to adopt single-use plastic reduction measures, including a polystyrene ban and upon request provisions. Prior to adoption, Council Member Randy Walton, who initiated the conversation about plastic reduction measures and was a strong supporter of the ordinance, collaborated with Surfrider San Diego to conduct a city-wide cleanup, during which over 700 pounds of litter was collected from city streets. San Marcos has since partnered with the Vallecitos Water District to install water refill stations at local parks.
Ordinance discussions began moving forward again in Carlsbad when staff introduced the Sustainable Materials Implementation Plan, which was adopted in December 2021. Then in April, Carlsbad Council Members voted in favor of a comprehensive single-use plastic food-ware reduction ordinance, and on May 10th, they unanimously approved single-use plastic bottle and bag ordinances and also voted to ban the intentional release of all lighter-than air balloons. Carlsbad’s new suite of SUP ordinances are among the strongest in the County and should serve as models for other jurisdictions to follow.
So now, even as I take a moment to celebrate the recent victories in Vista, San Marcos, and Carlsbad, I am focused on the two remaining cities in North County San Diego County along the 78 corridor that have not enacted ordinances.
Unfortunately, Escondido has yet to seriously consider a plastic reduction policy. In fact, Council Member Mike Morasco of Escondido does not believe the city should prioritize plastic pollution or climate change mitigation measures, stating “These are personal choices by individuals … People are sick and tired of government micromanaging their lives … We don’t have to do anything here. We have to teach; we have to educate … but don’t even think about mandating that people are forced to live a lifestyle based upon what someone else thinks is best for them.” He added, “I feel bad for the youth who’ve been indoctrinated to feel their lives are in peril. I don’t look at it as if the sky is falling.”
In spite of Morasco’s comments, Escondido Mayor Paul MacNamara continues to seek a path forward and has actively supported businesses, like Burger Bench, that are striving to reduce the unnecessary distribution of single-use plastics and have joined Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program. Most recently, MacNamara directed staff to provide an overview of ordinances adopted by neighboring cities. To that end, Escondido staff developed a matrix that outlines policies in San Diego County. I am hopeful that the Mayor’s request for this information might finally lead to a productive discussion about common sense measures to reduce single-use plastics in Escondido.
Unfortunately, like Morasco, the majority of Council Members in Oceanside have shirked the City’s responsibility to act on SUP. While a headline from August 2021 states, Oceanside Comes Down Hard on Plastic, the Council actually did no such thing.
Oceanside’s leaders opted for a Marine Debris Reduction Resolution rather than the ordinance that was presented by staff, and even though they ultimately decided to move forward with a “skip the stuff” policy, requiring that accessory-ware be provided only upon request, it was pulled from the agenda because a similar state law passed in the interim. (AB 1276, the statewide “skip the stuff” law for California, goes into effect on June 1, 2022).
Oceanside’s Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Keim acknowledges that plastic pollution is a problem, stating “You travel across the country or across the world to these remote places and you find a foot deep of plastic bottles, If we can start in our own backyard that would be great.”
But Oceanside still hasn’t gotten serious about cleaning up its backyard while neighboring jurisdictions are being good stewards of their communities.
Oceanside’s procrastination is all the more frustrating because it comes after years of community advocacy and widespread support. In fact 95% of who those who completed the City’s Green Oceanside survey responded affirmatively to “Do you think single-use plastic should be reduced?”
Current Council Members have all but ignored this input from residents dating back five years to March 2017, when students from Del Rio Elementary School did a presentation for the Council on the environmental and economic impacts of marine debris. Other awareness raising events have included a screening of Straws the Movie held at the Hill Street Country Club gallery on Coast Highway in August 2018.
In addition, residents and students have spoken during City Council meetings multiple times over the years to advocate for a single-use plastics reduction policies, but until the majority of Oceanside Council Members acknowledge that local decisions regarding the environment can and do make a difference, nothing will change.
So even as we recognize and celebrate unanimous support in Vista, San Marcos, and Carlsbad, I am disappointed by the inaction in Oceanside and Escondido. How much longer can both majorities continue to ignore the fact that neighboring city councils have united to protect our “backyards” in order to ensure a clean and healthy planet for future generations?