At the April 20 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold, and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton voted to agendize a hearing at which the county could decide to pull out of the Integrated Waste Management Authority.
No one is unclear on the reason why. The IWMA ban on polystyrene passed two years ago to "help maximize the operating life of landfills and help protect the natural environment from contamination and degradation" (emphasis added) but was left in limbo. It was finally implemented on April 16 despite the gun-to-the-head threat from our conservative ruling block of supervisors to leave the IWMA if it was—a threat that scared some (but not quite enough) of their colleagues on the IWMA board to vote against a ban they had previously voted for. As CalCoastNews put it in the run-up to the polystyrene vote: "Peschong and Arnold noted plans to pull the county out of the IWMA if they continued to force ordinances on communities they were not elected to represent. Paso Robles Councilman John Hamon agreed, saying Paso Robles would likely exit the IWMA with the county."
This was one in a string of bogus rationales for opposition to implementing the ban. Let us count the ways:
• Sacramento could achieve the goals of the ban with a statewide bill, rendering a local ban unnecessary. (No such bill has been passed by the state Legislature, and every such bill legislators have attempted to pass in recent years has been killed.)
• The IWMA must only enforce mandates from the state. (It is the policy goal of the state that no less than 75 percent of solid waste generated be source-reduced, recycled, or composted. The mandate provided by the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 is cited in the first paragraph of the ordinance, and in the IWMA's 2012 ordinance prohibiting single-use plastic bags, which noted that the IWMA is "empowered ... to achieve the mandates imposed by the Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989 on a regional basis," enabling it "to enact a waste reduction and reuse program that will decrease the use of single-use carryout bags." Ditto your Styrofoam take-out clamshell. And aside from the pretense that there was no state mandate for the polystyrene ordinance, the stern insistence that the IWMA must only enforce state mandates is coming from elected officials who have spent their political lives proclaiming their horror at the idea of state authority. This is the kind of hypocrisy that never breaks down in the environment.)
• We can't afford it. (At the meeting where the polystyrene ban was finally implemented, staff presented a budget to go along with it.)
And so on. But the argument that the county should leave the IWMA because it "force(s) ordinances on communities they were not elected to represent" is a special brand of bogus.
First, it's hard to know exactly what that means. Is this a local eruption of the longstanding conservative dream of abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Education, etc., in fealty to the philosophy that government agencies are undemocratic? Are the conservative supervisors unaware that every regulatory body in the nation that is overseen by boards of elected officials makes decisions and passes ordinances that apply beyond the political jurisdiction of any single board member? Are they unaware that on any given Tuesday, they themselves vote on measures that may primarily or only effect the residents of a supervisorial district not their own?
An elected official who does not understand this—or pretends not to when it suits his or her purposes—probably has no business being an elected official.
The hearing on pulling the county out of the IWMA may be held as early as the supervisors' May 4 meeting (the county didn't post an agenda before press time). County staff will hopefully take the time to acquaint the board majority—and indirectly, the city of Paso Robles—with the phrase "economies of scale" and point out the reasons why it might be a good thing that, for the last 27 years, there has been a single agency that manages all hazardous waste, universal waste, solid waste, green/food waste, and recycling for San Luis Obispo County.
If they do so but the board majority chooses not to hear them, it will be because the ideological call of the wild overpowered any residual fondness for responsible governance, and the grand exit must be made no matter how much more money it costs all residents to take on the duties of the IWMA via multiple smaller, semi-redundant agencies that must make some attempt at coordination across a tangle of multiple local jurisdictions.
That grand exit on a 3-2 vote won't be as memorable as it would be if Supervisors Peschong, Compton, and Arnold lay on the floor, screaming, kicking their heels and holding their breath until their faces turned blue. But it will come to the same thing. Δ
Andrew Christie is the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club's director. Send comments for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.