Athletes pack pro-plastic political message

November 9, 2011

Bob Gutierrez


High school football players delivered a political message along with barbecue chicken dinners last weekend at an Atascadero fundraiser, surprising some parents, risking their boosters’ non-profit status, and igniting a brisk debate about plastic bags and exploitation of students.

Student athletes from Paso Robles and Atascadero were servers at Saturday’s annual fund-raising event at Food4Less, and the meal boxes they carried to tables also contained a one-page flyer imprinted with the message: “Stop the SLO County bag tax and ban.” The football teams’ booster organizations, which are non-profit entities, orchestrated the event.

A controversial countywide ban on plastic and paper grocery bags will be considered today by the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) in a 1:30 p.m. session at the County Government Center. (Editor’s note: Check this site for an update following the meeting.)

“Under non-profit law, a non-profit must promise not to be involved in political advocacy to maintain its status,” said San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins.

The American Chemistry Council and a local offshoot group provided the meal flyer, “Keep Bags Free SLO.”

Allyson Wilson, public relations manager of American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division in Washington, described the flyer as “simple, just a single-sided flyer,” and then said, “As I understand it, we got a call, they said they could use 3,000 copies of the flyer and they could get those out to a big audience.”

Asked who “they” were, Wilson referred a reporter to Bob Gutierrez, a spokesman for Food4Less. Gutierrez skirted the question of the flyers’ source, but said his company “is going to be affected by this issue and this information was provided for consumers in the region.”

Sam De Rose, athletic director at Atascadero High School, said he was unaware of any political issue, and also referred a reporter to Gutierrez.

The San Luis Obispo County measure under consideration would allow retailers to distribute thicker bags costing a nickel, with the idea that the bags would be reused. Along with the chemistry group, the measure is opposed by their local action affiliate, Keep Bags Free SLO.

The flyer asked recipients to attend the IWMA meeting today and speak in opposition to the ban.  The authority’s board of directors is made up of all five county supervisors, a representative from each of the county’s seven cities, and a Cambria Community Services District official.

Ironically, the California Grocers Association — to which Food4Less belongs — notified its board members Tuesday that it supports the bag ban proposal with some minor changes.

“The draft ordinance… is one the grocery industry believes will achieve its environmental goals, while providing consumers no-cost and low-cost carry out bag options and not placing unnecessary burdens on retailers,” wrote Timothy James, manager of governmental relations for the grocers’ group.

Bill Worrell, the waste management authority’s manager, said stores will be able to recover costs by charging a small amount per bag.

“We can’t tax the bags,” said Worrell, referring to a recently passed piece of legislation, “so we have no choice but to seek an outright ban.”

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If the bag ban means I don’t have to shake the grocery bagger out of he/r stupor shouting “PAPER! I said PAPER! Not plastic!” I’m all for it…