Plastic-bag ban on the ballot? Group thinks 4th time's the charm

ISSAQUAH, Wash. - Supporters of a citizen-led effort to get Issaquah's plastic bag ban on the ballot recently learned they are shy several hundred signatures required for the referendum. But Craig Keller, a West Seattle resident, says despite being unsuccessful the first time around, this time they are determined to get what they need.

"This is hard to do," Keller says. "As we know, we weren't able to collect enough signatures in Seattle, Shoreline and even in Issaquah the first time. But this is an attack on citizens' rights."

A handful of cities, including Seattle, Shoreline, Bainbridge Island and Edmonds, each have their own plastic bag bans, and Keller says how those ordinances came to be was the same: a vote by city leaders. Issaquah's ban is no different in that regard; it was approved by a 5-2 vote of the city council in June 2012.

"It's micro-management, and they have no right to do so," Keller says. "This is not a public-health issue - like traffic and speeding laws."

In 2011, Keller started Save our Choice, a volunteer citizen group originally created to oppose the Seattle bag ban and bag tax. Keller says while he and his supporters failed to get the ban put on the ballot in Seattle he's learned a lot about the citizen-led initiative process and thought he could assist his eastside neighbors.

"I felt I could help the citizens of Issaquah know how to do this process, and this would give them an opportunity that wasn't given: a vote on the issue" Keller says.

Last week, King County Elections went through and checked each of the 3,687 signatures Keller and volunteers collected over the past six months in Issaquah. Of those, elections staff verified and validated 2,179 signatures; but in order to get the bag ban on the ballot, there must be 2,549 signatures.

According to state law, Keller and his supporters now have 10 days to go out and collect additional signatures in order to meet the number required.

"We have our work cut out for us in the next 10 days to fill the gap, but I am confident we will do it."

This is the second attempt by Keller and Save our Choice to get the bag ban on the ballot in Issaquah. The community activist group failed the first time to collect enough signatures not only in Issaquah but also in Seattle and most recently in Shoreline.

Originally initiated by former city councilman Mark Mullet, who is now a state senator, Issaquah city leaders approved a phased approach to the ban. Starting in March 2013, large retailers within city limits were prohibited from using single-use plastic carryout bags; smaller retailers will see the ban go into effect March 1, 2014. The Issaquah bag ban also requires all retail stores to charge a minimum of 5 cents per bag for paper bags.

At the time Issaquah began considering a plastic bag ban, environmental concerns played a large role in the city's decision.

Fred Butler, council president, was one of the 'yes' votes in favor of the ban.

"We spent a long time looking at all the aspects, and I thought it was the right thing to do," Butler says.

Butler says they will be watching to see how the process plays out with the petition.

Keller and his volunteers have until Sept. 27 to collect the 370 signatures still needed. He says they plan to spend that time pounding the pavement and calling on those voters who signatures were deemed illegible by election employees.