The San Diego City Council got an educational visit Tuesday from a delegation of anti-plastic bag activists – not paid lobbyists, but schoolkids on a project to learn how people can influence local government.
The kids are aware it won't be until November 2016 that voters will cast ballots on a referendum challenging the Senate Bill 270, the state's plastic bag ban that was passed last year.
And while they’re much younger than voting age, they’ve learned that 138 local governments throughout California have enacted their own restrictions.
Now that a measure has just been introduced for San Diego, in the wake of the pro-bag referendum qualifying for the ballot, they’re pushing for more municipal momentum.
Several addressed the council in a “non-agenda, public comment” presentation during a morning session cablecast live on City TV 24, and with more scores of onlookers in the 12th-floor council chamber.
"Tens of thousands of whales, seals or sea turtles are killed each year from ingesting plastic bags," a third grader named Max told the gathering.
Max and his cohorts hail from Innovation Academy, a K-8 charter school in Scripps Ranch, and were accompanied by instructors and activists from Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego County Chapter.
"Plastic in the ocean, plastic in the streets, plastics in animals -- some animals we eat,” went a poem delivered by a sixth grader named Isabella. “It's such a shame to know we humans made all this mess. Will the plastics ever stop?"
The students appeared well-armed with research and passed around custom-designed samples of heavy-duty, long-life bags advocated by ecologists -- because an estimated 95 percent of plastic bags are thrown away, or blown away, into the environment instead of being recycled.
"If the largest city passes a bag ban ordinance,” Surfrider spokesman Mark West told the council, “then cities such as Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Oceanside will all fall into place."
Council members complimented the kids on their academic inquiry and handiwork.
Said Councilman Mark Kersey, whose 5th District includes Innovation Academy: “It’s just truly impressive. I want to thank you for coming out today. You were very well-spoken.”
In an email later to NBC 7, the American Progressive Bag Alliance -- sponsors of the referendum to repeal the statewide ban – observed that the law mostly benefits "big grocers" who charge customers a dime for a paper bag, and that it will put thousands of industry workers out of work.
The group urged the council to “focus on more responsible policymaking until their constituents have the chance to vote on the (statewide) issue next year.”
But a former interim Councilman and career lifeguard Ed Harris argued for a full-speed-ahead approach.
"I am calling on the mayor to expedite the environmental process,” Harris said in an interview with NBC 7 following the hearing. “We can finish this in 30 days and it can be in front of the council … the mayor has done really good things for the environment, and I'm asking him to do this now."
In response, Craig Gustafson, a spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said Harris' suggested 30-day time frame is "legally impossible" under state guidelines.
Gustafson pointed to the mayor's climate action plan and pure water program as prime examples of commitment to environmental protection measures.