Homer has a new city council member in political newcomer Joey Evensen, and voters have approved a ban on retailers providing thin, single-use plastic bags within city limits.
Current council member Shelly Erickson is leading in votes for the second open city council seat by only 26 votes.
Voting was steady during the first part of the day at the Homer precinct at Homer City Hall, with a line of people filling the lobby and 292 votes cast by 1:30 p.m.
According to unofficial election results from the City Clerk’s office, there are still 262 absentee votes to be counted. Voter turnout was 28 percent in Homer.
Prop A (single-use plastic bag ban)
Proposition A asked voters within city limits whether they wanted to amend Homer City Code to prohibit sellers from providing a buyer with a single-use plastic carry out bag, if that bag was less than 2.5 mils thick.
Voters approved the bag ban with 748 yes votes to 406 no votes.
Homer was actually the first city on the Kenai Peninsula to ban these kinds of very-thin plastic bags back in 2012 through an ordinance at the city council level. However, that measure was repealed after a successful citizen initiative made it onto the next election ballot in 2013. Since then, Soldotna and Seward have passed bag bans of their own, as have other towns and cities like Wasilla and Anchorage.
Council member Caroline Venuti brought the issue up again in 2018, saying at the time she thought Homer was more ready to revisit a potential banning of thin plastic bags. She originally brought it forward as a city ordinance to be voted on by the council, like in 2012, but she and the council decided against that after considerable public comment and feedback. The measure was eventually included on the election ballot to go before voters instead.
In Homer, the ban only applies to a very specific, thin kind of plastic bag. It’s the kind of bag which supporters of the ban say add to the issue of pollution, nationally and here at home. According to the New York Times, only a small portion of the more than 100 billion lightweight plastic bags people use every year are ever recycled. Locally, scientists and concerned citizens have testified to the city council that the bags pose a threat to marine life in Kachemak Bay, since they easily break into smaller pieces when they hit the water, making them extremely difficult to remove from the environment.
The change in city code will be effective starting Jan. 1, 2020. Sellers will be able to continue providing thin, single-use plastic bags after that date until their existing inventory runs out.
Paper bags or bags thicker than 2.5 mils will not be prohibited should retailers opt to provide them. While paper bags do take significantly more energy to create, they also degrade faster in the environment.
Homer resident Dennis Krumm said he voted in favor of prohibiting single-use plastic bags within city limits because he thinks residents don’t need them.
“Plastics are killing the planet, you know?” he said. “You hear about it on all the NPR shows. Microplastics are killing our fish and wildlife. We need to extremely reduce plastic usage.”
Krumm said plastic is good to use for plenty of other things, like in cars, for example.
“But they don’t really get into the environment and they’re used for years at a stretch, right?” he said. “It’s these five-minute throwaways.”
Resident Dean Kildaw also said he voted in favor of the bag ban because plastic pollution affects marine life, and Homer is a place that relies on marine fisheries.
“We’ve got to take care of our environment if we want to keep (that),” he said. “And even though the bag issue and the plastic pollution is affecting another part of the world, we’ve got to think globally.”
Pamela Hall, on the other hand, said she voted against the proposed ban on single-use plastic bags because of what she sees as an issue being caused by other parts of the world.
“The pollution is coming from China and Asia, and I agree straws, plastic bags … but we’re not adding to it.” she said. “You know, if they want to go after those people, I would be more for it, but I reuse my bags, too.”
Brandy Super also voted against the bag ban.
“I’m looking at really the longterm impact on even some of our other business owners,” she said. “Like restaurants and stuff like that. You know, they’re having to charge their customer extra money even for them and it puts people in a hard spot.”
Super said she personally gets multiple uses out of the plastic bags she gets at the store.
“So, I make good use out of them,” she said.
Resident Dave Herron voted for the ban, he said, because he’s sick of seeing the thin plastic bags littering his surroundings.
“They’re just a nuisance,” he said.
Homer City Council
Joey Evensen has been elected to serve on the Homer City Council for a three-year term, and Shelly Erickson is leading in votes for the second open seat, according to unofficial election results from the City Clerk’s office.
Evensen won one of the two open seats on the council with the largest percent of the votes — 726 or 33 percent — while Erickson is leading for the other seat with 538, or 25 percent of votes. Candidate Storm Hansen-Cavasos is right behind Erickson with 23 percent of the vote, coming in with a total of 512. There are still 262 absentee votes to be counted in the city election, and with a margin of 26 votes between the two, that could change.
Current city council member Tom Stroozas received 18 percent of the vote with 403.
Stroozas and Erickson have both served on the council since 2016 and were running for re-election. Evensen and Hansen-Cavasos were both newcomers to local government, though both were raised in Homer.
At the polls Tuesday afternoon, voters were split in their answers on who they voted for. Super and Hall both voted for Erickson and Stroozas.
“I just believe that Stroozas has a very good, common sense head on his shoulders,” Super said. “And I’ve also known Shelly personally throughout the years.”
“I’ve sat through the city council meetings, and I appreciate their points of view,” Hall added.
Resident Evangeline White said she voted for Hansen-Cavasos because she favored her views when it comes to the council.
“She’s a good person. She’s smart and she’s lived here all her life,” White said. “And I think she’ll do good.”
Kildaw said he voted for Evensen and Erickson.
“I like Joey because I think he brings a voice of reason, for what I was listening (to) on KBBI when they had the interviews,” Kildaw said. “… He seemed like a bright, smart guy and would have the city’s interests (at heart).”
“I guess I didn’t like the other two candidates,” Kildaw said when asked why his second vote when to Erickson.
Reached Tuesday night after preliminary results came in, Erickson was loathe to celebrate just yet. She said she’ll feel more relaxed when the 262 absentee votes are tallied.
“You never know what it’s going to do in Homer, so I guess we’ll see,” she said.
Erickson said she feels she’s run a good campaign and that “I’m happy to be able to serve if that’s what the city of Homer wants me to do.”
Evensen sent a statement to the Homer News on election night after results came in.
“I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have supported my campaign,” he wrote. “On behalf of all of them I am so excited we were successful. I think this was a strong day for the Community (sic) of Homer. And I am excited to start helping out.”
On Wednesday morning, Stroozas reflected on his time on the city council.
“When I came to Homer, I came to Homer with the idea of retiring like so many people do,” he said.
Instead, Stroozas then leaped into year of public service through myriad boards and commissions, and the past three years sitting on the council. Stroozas said he looks forward to being retired again and taking a bit of a break.
Hansen-Cavasos did not return calls for comment in time for this story.