Bag fee

The Durango City Council embraces a set of values that effectively embody the essence of what makes Durango so desirable a place to live and visit. In the council’s commitment to its residents, the lawmakers say, “We are dedicated to promoting a sustainable economic viability while we responsibly steward our community’s resources. And finally, we have a strong commitment to protect our environment and preserve the open space of our beautiful natural lands.” That is a relatively progressive set of guiding principles that are ideologically admirable and, more practically, have produced significant achievements from current and past councils.

Viewed from that perspective, the city’s proposed fee on the disposable bags provided by large retailers is very much in keeping with the council’s commitment. It also suggests the measure by which policy proposals are evaluated. Missing from that set of commitments and the values it embodies is the notion that City Council makes its decisions based on popular vote or majority opinion. Instead, councilors are taking an unabashed stance in adopting a 10-cent fee for each plastic or paper bag distributed by Albertsons, City Market and Walmart stores. That is not an unheard of method of governing, nor is it without merit, but councilors should be forthright with their positions.

Among the fee’s four supporters on council there is a spectrum of just how completely that ideology is acknowledged. Mayor Dick White and Councilor Sweetie Marbury have fairly thoroughly owned their positions as being informed by their personal values and have been advocates of the fee. As White wrote in a statement Marbury read at a Tuesday meeting, it is council’s “role as elected officials ... to render our best judgment on what is in the long-term interest of the community. I believe that the checkout-bag ordinance meets this standard.”

Councilor Dean Brookie has been consistent in his position that the bag ordinance sends a clear and important message that Durango is committed to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and puts the city in league with such desirable enclaves as Hawaii, San Francisco, Boulder and Seattle. Councilor Christina Rinderle has thrown her support behind the fee for the statement it makes about the community and its ability to change people’s behavior in ways that can be less of an impact on the environment.

Each of these positions is defensible and even laudable. It is not, however, demonstrative of the ethic that some feel is more desirable in their lawmakers: namely, legislating according to constituents’ predominant sentiment. While Rinderle and others on the council in the past have tried to use a petition from bag-ban supporters as cover for their position, there has been equal if not more input from opponents of the ban, including a survey conducted in May by the Durango Chamber of Commerce that found nearly 63 percent of respondents opposed the fee.

While some of their reasons are a bit of a stretch – fears of an E. coli epidemic, for example – some opponents raise the valid point that a fee at only a handful of retailers will do little to address the problem that supporters of the fee have identified.

The bottom line is that in pushing ahead with a fee on disposable bags, Durango City Council has shown its steadfast commitment to the values the city has embraced. For that, councilors should be commended – and completely up front.

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