From one perspective, the new Los Angeles County ban on retailers wrapping up purchases in plastic bags is a sign of momentum, with other counties and cities in California poised to follow suit.

But from another perspective, those other municipalities are in wait-and-see mode, waiting for the other shoe to drop – mindful of a threatened lawsuit by a plastics industry group against Los Angeles County.

“Our council wants to move forward,” said Bob Nelson, superintendent of resource recovery in the city of Santa Cruz. “The momentum is there with the electorate and certainly the momentum with the council. We will keep going forward while we adjust to the new situation.”

There is a coordinated effort with the cities in Santa Cruz County and the county government itself to pass plastic bag ordinances in 2011. The hope is to establish a consistent standard for the public and businesses, said Nelson.

Cities and counties are anxious to quell the ubiquitous use of landfill-clogging, plastic “urban tumbleweeds.” They want to encourage the public in its growing habit of reusable totes for shopping.

The Green Cities California coalition staged a press conference Nov. 29 in Sacramento to celebrate the collective momentum and the progress represented by Los Angeles County’s ban.

Outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the press conference to proclaim his support. Noting that the Legislature fell a few votes short in August, Schwarzenegger called for a renewed effort to pass a statewide ban.

Although Gov.-elect Jerry Brown has been quiet on the plastic bag issue, he did run a winning campaign heavy on the themes of environmental preservation and sustainability.

After the end-of-session loss in the Senate in August (the bill, AB 1998, passed the Assembly), various California cities and counties went back to the drawing board and resumed drafting local bills. Many will come up for votes in the next few months. Nelson said Santa Cruz officials are keeping an eye on San Jose, with a public hearing on a potential ban ordinance scheduled for Dec. 14.

There have been recent policy discussions about potential bans in the cities of Fremont, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Ventura and the counties of Marin, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Ventura counties. To see samples of potential ordinances and Environmental Impacts reports, tote your browser over to the Green Cities California Web site

Since San Francisco passed such a ban in 2007, a few other jurisdictions have followed suit: the town of Fairfax and the cities of Malibu, Palo Alto, Oakland and Manhattan Beach. The latter city suspended the ban because of a lawsuit (Save the Plastic Bag Coalition vs. the City of Manhattan Beach) now pending in the California Supreme Court; that decision will be closely watched by other cities and counties thinking of drafting plastic bag laws.

The ban in the nation’s most populous county, approved by 3-1 vote Nov. 16, applies to unincorporated areas of Los Angeles. Other cities in the county – notably Santa Monica – are considering their own bans.

With retailers unable to offer plastic bags and mandated to charge 10 cents a bag to give customers paper bags (that fee is retained by the retailers), LA residents are busy building collections of reusable cloth bags.

The county Department of Public Works estimates 600 bags per person per year end up in LA County landfills, and account for as much as a quarter of the litter stream.

Another policy wrinkle that may affect plastic bag bans was statewide voters’ Nov. 2 approval of Proposition 26, which reclassifies many government fees as “taxes” that require a two-thirds vote by city and county boards. That could affect local votes on bag ordinances as well as provisions specifying whether a portion of fees charged for paper bags goes to governments for administration and public education campaigns.

Because of the Prop. 26 uncertainty and the threat of a lawsuit against the new Los Angeles County ban, Nelson said he is drafting several versions of a Santa Cruz ordinance while taking into account public and business comments from recent hearings.

One option is to work with a local activist group, Save Our Shores, on a citizen-based initiative. Another is a law creating incentives for voluntary compliance – many stores have read the writing on the bag and already stopped handing out plastic sacks, Nelson said.

In Ukiah, for instance, the high school environmental club sponsors raffle tickets that go to shoppers who remember to bring along their reusable bags.