AUSTIN — The mayor signaled a possible compromise Monday on a proposed ban on plastic grocery bags.
"We will get where we need to be on plastic bags," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a news conference at Austin Polytechnical Academy. "This touches a lot of people, how they live their lives, and you're not gonna just do it overnight."
The mayor cited the city's commitment to environmental initiatives from recycling to improved bike traffic and said the bag ban was consistent with that.
"You need to be sensitive, and the details matter," Emanuel said.
Emanuel specifically mentioned the need to balance the needs of big retailers against neighborhood stores that might be less nimble in adapting to the change.
"I'm open to that," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), lead sponsor of the bag ban. He added that he had spoken with small-business owners just last week after the City Council meeting, and their basic attitude was: "Give us some more time on this. We're not so enthusiastic about the ordinance as a whole, but we get what you're trying to do, and if you give us some more time than the big boys we think we can make it happen."
Moreno said he didn't think small businesses would get an exemption from the bag ban, but they could receive a longer grace period for compliance. He added that it wouldn't be as long as the three years some have mentioned, but it likely wouldn't be any shorter than a year.
Moreno said, however, he wanted to make sure the grace period was allowed for mom-and-pop corner stores and not chains like convenience stores and gas stations. He questioned whether a distinction based on square footage would work, and instead mentioned setting limits on total revenue or number of employees.
Moreno originally got 47 aldermen to sign on to the ban, but support has eroded slightly as the measure gets closer to an actual vote, which has now been set for a committee hearing April 15. Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) has said he fears it could chase consumers in his Southwest Side ward across the city border into the suburbs.
Tanya Triche, spokeswomen for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, has testified that "it will certainly drive up costs," as paper bags cost more than plastic, and the mayor has said he finds the idea of charging consumers for the bags unnecessary.
Moreno said the one thing he wold not accept is any more delays after first submitting the proposal two years ago.
"I want to re-emphasize what is not on the table is some faux study group, some non-existent recycling program. Those things are non-starters," he said. "We're not gonna fall for another stall-scare tactic."
Emanuel made his remarks at a news conference touting a $2.7 million federal grant for the manufacturing-oriented Austin high school.