The City Hall Auditorium overflowed Thursday night as Gainesville citizens discussed single-use plastic and utility bills with commissioners.
The first item on the agenda called for city commission to overturn its efforts of eliminating styrofoam containers and single-use plastic bags. Three citizens voiced concerns on the repeal but to no avail. The motion to officially repeal two city ordinances related to the ban of these items passed unanimously with the absence of commissioner David Arreola.
The city issued its notice of intent to repeal ordinances 170487 and 190114 on Aug. 15, according to public records.
The repeal decision happened after a case between the Federal Retail Federation and the city of Coral Gables over a similar plastic ban, according to Alligator archives. The Third District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the federation, citing three Florida statutes that prevent local governments from banning disposable plastic bags and regulating polystyrene products.
City commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said Publix, which contributes funds the Federal Retail Federation, has pushed the state legislature to prevent cities from protecting their environment.
“I would hope that Publix would take a different stance to make our communities more environmentally friendly places instead of working to preempt cities trying to pass environmental regulations,” Hayes-Santos said in an interview prior to the meeting.
Following the repeal, the commissioners began a discussion about a 2.3 percent increase in Gainesville Regional Utility rates that lasted for over an hour, including public comments from 23 citizens.
The first reading for the ordinance passed in a 4-2 vote, and the second ordinance reading is scheduled for Sept. 26. The increase would apply to monthly bills of electricity, water, sewage and natural gas starting Oct. 1.
“The first desire of any elected official is to do more, provide more services for your community — a higher level of service, better quality — for less cost,” Mayor Lauren Poe said. “Those two things very often don’t go together.”
Danielle Chanzes, a 26-year-old Gainesville resident, told commissioners she lasted six months living on her own in a studio apartment in East Gainesville three years ago. There were times when she didn’t run the air conditioning all month long and had utility bills more than $250, she said.
Chaznes identified herself as a trained energy auditor for the Community Weatherization Coalition, an organization dedicated to lowering home energy bills for Alachua County residents.
She’s spoken with Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army about the millions of dollars spent on emergency utility assistance, she said.
“That’s not justice,” Chaznes said. “We should do better in this community.”