The plastic bag industry, under the guise of the disingenuously-named “American Progressive Bag Alliance,” is likely to submit 750,000 or so signatures next week to the California Secretary of State. Although the rain has dampened signature gathering efforts, forcing the industry to spend upwards of $3.50 signature, the bag makers should collect more than enough voter signatures to qualify a referendum on Senate Bill 270, the legislation signed by Governor Brown in late September that would have banned single-use plastic bags as of July 1, 2015.

Last week, veteran Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters said it was a “no lose” situation for the out-of-state bag industry to force the referendum. But Walters apparently discounts the $3.1 million they’ve already spent to qualify it (98 percent of which is from out-of-state) — not to mention the $30 million or so it will cost them to mount a challenge to the law.

In addition, if and when the referendum qualifies, it also will mean dozens of communities will unleash bans of their own to add to the 131 jurisdictions that already have them. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced his intention to do just that on Monday.

Not only will this force plastic bag makers to sink millions into lobbying efforts to combat local laws (and tarnish the corporation reputations of Novolex and its equity fund backers Wind Point Partners), it will keep the issue in the news non-stop until 2016. What’s worse for the bag makers, voters in jurisdictions with plastic bag bans are even more likely to be supportive of a statewide ban, according to recent polling. That will make their 2016 effort even more difficult.


Business interests like the plastic bag industry (and in this case, primarily a single bag manufacturer, Novolex, also known as HilexPoly) already start ballot campaigns in the hole. As the Orange Country Register’s political reporter Martin Wisckol wrote on Monday, a USC study found “after spending tens of millions of dollars over a 90-year period, the industry has managed to pass less than 25 percent of the initiatives they attempted. This is why the industry has chosen to pursue initiatives to expand their industry. They realize that money alone will not pass an initiative.”


Another study Wisckol cites, “Citizens as Legislators,” found that while 40 percent of all California ballot measures from 1986 to 1996 were approved, only 14 percent pushed by special interests passed.

The plastic bag industry won’t even be able to count on the support of the business community; powerful players already are aligned against it. They include the California Grocers Association as well as a coalition of environmental groups led by Californians Against Waste.

In addition, most of the state’s major newspapers have editorialized fiercely against the referendum, including the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, and San Francisco Chronicle.


Steven Maviglio is co-campaign manager of California vs. Big Plastic, the committee fighting the SB 270 referendum campaign.