Granolapark: Plastic bags too high a hurdle

IMAGE: City and state politicians honored the Takoma Park Horticultural Club with a proclamation recognizing their centennial this year. They are one of the oldest continuing American horticultural clubs. City mayor Kate Stewart wished them another hundred years.


Dear Readers,

Like Olympic champions the city council sprinted over the hurdles at the Wednesday May 18 meeting, casting votes at running speed. The 2017 city tax rate, the storm water management budget, the housing reserve fun, and all three cable tv franchise agreement votes, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP, JUMP … all quickly passed.

Then BUMP, they got to the plastic bag ban and the champions turned into the Three Stooges. Every time one of them tried to leap the hurdle, another would pull him back by the hair or the shirt-tail.

“Hey, wade-a-minnit!” “Wadda-you, a wise guy?” “Woo-woo-woo-woo!”

They couldn’t get over the part about bulk food bags. The draft resolution called for merchants to use “compostable” plastic.

But in the citizen comment session before the votes, a resident who claimed to have researched the subject said it was a “greenwashing” term. “Compostable” bags can only be composted in a special industrial facility, they can’t be just dropped in the compost with food scraps, she said. The council got a constituent’s email earlier in the same day saying something similar, apparently.

This set the council to googling in mid-meeting. They came up with the sort of confusing, contradictory information that the internet so readily provides.

The city attorney quickly devised a couple of options. Councilmembers each suggested other solutions or combined solutions and options or pointed out how much or how little they agreed with each other.

They finished the race by not finishing. They went around the hurdle, leaving a note that they would call again when they felt more up to it.

It was only the first reading (i.e. vote) of two, and first readings are more like first chewings, as puppy dogs give to shoes. The council gnaws the proposed ordinance to slobbery bits, which the staff takes out of their mouths and reassembles in time for the second reading.

They’ve already decided to revisit the plastic bag ban and re-write as necessary when they revisit the law a year after the first version is passed.  So they may just not fool with bulk-item bags until then. The main part of the bill – banning “point of sale” plastic bags – is to their liking.

As we previously reported, they decided not to give the farmer’s market an exemption, but they will give them a one-year waiver.

Fear of hippies

It’s weird to see the council looking all serious and worried about group houses, and talking about how neighborhoods need to be altered to their troublesome presence and how they should be registered and subject to housing inspections, because these are FAMILY homes for FAMILIES!

It was a city staffer, the one in charge of code enforcement, who gave them a metaphorical slap on the face and a “snap OUT of it!” speech. Group houses offer companionship and opportunities for people who otherwise might not be able to live in the city without the cheap rent, said Sara Daines, Housing and Community Development Director. And in the case of homeowners renting out rooms in their own homes, it helps them afford the mortgage. It’s actually a kind of affordable housing, which is the hot topic around here. So why doesn’t the council, she suggested, just wait and see how owner-occupied group homes into their upcoming affordable housing policy discussions?

Three years ago the council put a “sunset clause” on the owner-occupied group home registration requirement. The requirement expires June 30, 2016.

There are 23 such homes registered with the city. There are probably many more unregistered. The question is begged why a house with unrelated residents needs to be registered when a house with just as many related residents doesn’t. What’s the dif between a household that takes in a housemate and one that takes in a recently-graduated adult son or daughter? Which one is more likely to be rowdy, up late at night and holding wild parties?

It’s ironic when one considers how Takoma Park was chock-full of group homes stuffed with students, activists, artists/musicians and hippies back when it first established its reputation as The Berkley of the East. And the conservative council and good-citizenry of the day were as fearful and suspicious of the group home denizens as … the current council.

– Gilbert


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About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "Granolapark: Plastic bags too high a hurdle"

  1. Takoma Park has nothing in common with my previous beloved home of Berkeley, but wasn’t the phaseback of nonconforming group homes supported by Sam Abbott as a protection for renters? Then again, the issue then was absentee owners chopping up older homes into multiple units without much concern for safety.

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