By Richard Lara
3:28 PM EDT, March 27, 2013
Differences of opinion among elected officials should be valued and respected because they contribute to the legislative process, but they should also be scrutinized. Two council members recently expressed opinions worthy of scrutiny while discussing the city's proposed ban on plastic bags. ("HB steps closer to banning plastic bags," March 19.)
First, council member Joe Carchio said of the proposal: "It's [already] on the assembly floor and this is where it should be, […]. It should be done by the state. It shouldn't be done by us. We shouldn't be doing this. The state of California should be doing this and Marc Levine is doing this."
Carchio suggests that the city is overstepping its bounds. This is false.
California's Constitution provides, in Article XI, Section 2. (a), that "[t]he Legislature shall prescribe uniform procedures for city formation and provide for city powers." A city has the power to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its people, so long as its regulations do not conflict with state or federal laws. One of the purposes of cities is to provide a unit of government that is more responsive than the Legislature. So, it is precisely from the State Legislature that Huntington Beach derives its power to ban plastic bags, and the city is neither obligated nor expected to wait on the legislature to pass a statewide law.
Carchio's views suggest that we have less power and control over local circumstances than we do. As an elected official, Carchio should be exercising the city's power on our behalf instead of limiting it to our disadvantage. If he worries that the ban would not yield its intended results or that it would conflict with state or federal laws, then his concerns would be relevant. As they stand, however, his concerns are worse than irrelevant because they are misleading.
Next, Councilman Matthew Harper said that he "doesn't think the city or state should be telling businesses what they can and can't do with regard to bag distribution." He said we should not "follow in the footsteps of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach and West Hollywood" because "[w]e are different [and] [w]e should stand up for the freedoms of the people of Huntington Beach." He also says, "Huntington Beach [should not] race with the California Legislature in an effort to expand the role of government into our daily lives." Harper is mistaken.
The city should not hamper local businesses, but it is responsible for managing our quality of life at the local level. The ban on plastic bags would enhance our quality of life without adversely affecting local businesses. Harper's suggestion that the freedoms of business owners are the only ones at issue ignores the fact that many, if not most, citizens are not business owners and yet have interests in health, safety and welfare that are equally entitled to protection.
His allegation that his fellow council members are "racing" with the legislature to ban plastic bags ignores the fact that a chief purpose of city government is to give us a more responsive tier of government. Finally, the city already has the power to act in the interest of heath, safety and welfare, so the ban would not "expand the role of government in our daily lives."
Carchio and Harper would do better to speak and act from a clearer understanding of their roles as council members. They should start by supporting the ban on plastic bags.
RICHARD LARA is a resident of Huntington Beach. He holds master's degrees in history and philosophy from Indiana University and a doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Berlin, Germany. He is currently studying law at Whittier Law School.