May 5 - Update to the Manhattan Beach Supreme Court Case


Several bag ban supporters were in attendance at yesterday’s oral argument on the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition (STPBC) vs. City of Manhattan Beach case, from CAW and other environmental groups to local governments including the City of Manhattan Beach and Marin County. The oral arguments took a little over an hour to be heard, with each side having 30 minutes to make their case.

The two issues before the court were 1) did the City of Manhattan Beach conduct a sufficient environmental impact analysis in compliance with CEQA? and 2) did the STPBC have standing to file a lawsuit in the first place?

Attorney Jim Moose, who had filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of CAW, and attorney Christian Marsh, who filed an amicus curiae brief for the League of California Cities, made the oral arguments on CEQA and standing, respectively, for the City of Manhattan Beach. Attorney Stephen Joseph represented the STBPC.

Pictured here shortly after the closing of the oral arguments are, from left to right, Manhattan Beach Interim City Attorney Lee Dolley, Christian Marsh, Jim Moose, and Mayor of Manhattan Beach, Richard Montgomery.

The amicus attorneys had great arguments in defense of the City of Manhattan Beach’s ordinance. Justice Joyce Kennard's opening question helped clarify the intent of such an ordinance. When Kennard asked why an organization called Californians Against Waste would promote an ordinance that increases paper bag waste, Moose replied, "Californians Against Waste would answer the question ‘paper or plastic?’ with the answer, reusable or cloth bags."

Moose also made excellent points about the inapplicability of generic, biased Life Cycle Assessments on plastic bag impacts, and defended the adequacy of the Negative Declaration environmental analysis written by City of Manhattan Beach staff. After Joseph argued that the report was "flimsy" and written by non-experts, Moose cited several cases where planning staff were determined to be sufficient experts on planning issues and reports.

In regards to whether or not STPBC had standing, or a legal right to file a lawsuit, Marsh noted that STPBC had never asserted a beneficial interest as standing. Parties meet standing requirements if they have a "beneficial interest" in the case, or if they have a "public interest" exception to the beneficial interest requirement.

Despite the obvious fact that a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers could likely lose some business and money after the passage of the ordinance, Joseph wasn’t readily willing to admit whether or not the coalition had commercial interests in the case. He tried to avoid answering several of the Justices’ questions on the standing issue, eventually stating that STPBC wanted the case to be based on environmental interest and getting to the "environmental truth", not commercial interests.

After witnessing the persuasive arguments from Moose and Marsh and seeing Joseph falter under the Court's questioning, CAW is optimistic about the Court’s opinion which will be released within 90 days of the argument date. Like many others, we’re hopeful that a favorable Court opinion will help prevent future abuse of CEQA in regards to slowing down or stopping bag ordinances with unnecessary lawsuits and EIRs.

Read more on our May 4 blog or see what others in attendance yesterday thought here and here. A Contra Costa Times article on the case can be read here.