Coral Gables has taken several steps to become a sustainable city in the past year by encouraging and mandating green building standards, easing the process to obtain solar panels, and taking steps to ban the use of polystyrene products in the city.
That last effort has become a complicated move for the city in the past few months as the Florida Legislature passed a bill in February preventing local municipalities from banning the use of Styrofoam containers or other products. Cities that approved their bans before Jan. 1 were allowed to keep their laws in place, but others — like Coral Gables — were forced to reverse their decisions.
The Gables commission has since taken steps to keep the city ban including approving an ordinance that makes their ban effective as of December 2015, when the commission gave initial approval to the ban, and backing up their decision to keep the ban by citing the Miami-Dade home rule charter.
City Attorney Craig Leen said Coral Gables may face a legal challenge if it goes forward with enforcement and he argued that the home-rule charter should protect the city.
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“The Legislature can’t come here and legislate in a way that harms the city in the eyes of the city commission,” Leen said.
Commissioner Vince Lago wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him to veto the bill or take action. Lago said he has received no response. He views the ban as a necessary step for the city and said the main reason for the delayed approval of the ban was to educate the city’s business community.
“The idea that we shouldn’t be more sustainable is an antiquated one. In my opinion, this is a no-brainer,” Lago said.
The city’s ordinance has received some push-back. At a recent meeting, attorney Perry Adair, on behalf of American Chemistry Council, said his client thinks there are alternatives to just preventing polystyrene use.
“My client disagrees with the policy of the commission that an outright ban is the solution to the problem,” Adair said at a recent meeting.
The ordinance bans the use of expanded polystyrene by city vendors, at special events and by food service providers in Coral Gables. Violators will be subject to fines that begin at $50 and can increase to $500 after a third violation in a one-year period. The city plans to do an educational campaign for local businesses for the next six to nine months.
The issue has affected other municipalities across the state such as Orlando and North Miami. Meanwhile other South Florida municipalities, including Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands and Key Biscayne, will continue to keep their full or partial bans in effect without any issue.