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Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. Manhattan Beach, City of

Citation: 40 ELR 20030
No. No. B215788, (Cal. Ct., 01/27/2010)

A California appellate court affirmed a lower court’s decision to vacate an ordinance issued by the City of Manhattan Beach, which prohibited certain retailers from distributing plastic bags to customers at the point of sale, until the city prepared an environmental impact report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). On the basis of an initial study, the city concluded that the plastic bag distribution ban could not have a significant effect on the environment, and adopted the ordinance without completing an environmental impact report. Plaintiff, an association of plastic bag manufacturers that would be economically damaged by the ordinance, filed a writ of mandamus to require the city to complete an environmental impact report before implementing the ban. As a preliminary matter, the city argued that plaintiff did not have standing to bring the writ since it did not have the requisite “beneficial interest.” The court disagreed, holding that, under the public right/duty exception to the beneficial interest requirement for a writ of mandate, plaintiff had standing. That some of plaintiff’s members might benefit commercially does not deny it standing. On the merits, after determining that the ordinance was a project within the meaning of the CEQA, the court held that, based on substantial evidence in the record, it could be fairly argued that a plastic bag distribution ban may have a significant impact on the environment: a plastic bag ban is likely to lead to increased use of paper as well as reusable bags; paper bags have greater negative environmental effects as compared to plastic bags; and the negative environmental effects include greater nonrenewable energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste production and acid rain. An environmental impact report must therefore be prepared.