people holding signs at a meeting
Residents show their support for legislation banning disposable foodware at a January 2019 City Council meeting. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Three new laws are going into effect in Berkeley on Jan. 1.

Restaurants will stop (mostly) handing out disposable plates, cups

Starting on Wednesday, restaurants won’t be allowed to hand out plastic disposable foodware for take-out but must package the food instead in compostable foodware. Disposable compostable straws, lids, stirrers, cup spill plugs, napkins and utensils for take-out will now be provided only on request or at self-serve stations.

“The ordinance seeks to reduce plastic waste which ends up in storm drains, San Francisco Bay, and ocean,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote in a recent newsletter.

In addition, if you buy a cup of coffee or tea and use a disposable cup, you will be charged 25 cents under the new law. It’s an attempt to encourage customers to bring their own cups and thermoses.

Starting in July, restaurants will be required to serve food on reusable plates and to provide reusable cups and utensils for patrons dining in-house. Berkeley won’t start enforcing the law until July 1, 2021. The city is also providing mini-grants to food vendors to help them comply with the law. Hardship waivers are also available.

When the law on disposable foodware was passed in January, the sponsors, Councilwoman Sophie Hahn and Arreguín, described it as “the most ambitious, comprehensive legislation to reduce throw-away foodware in the United States.”

Berkeley is leading the way again with a new law to ban natural gas infrastructure in the bulk of new construction. Photo: Emilie Raguso

New natural gas pipes are banned

Newly constructed buildings won’t be allowed to install natural gas infrastructure. The ordinance introduced by City Councilwoman Kate Harrison was the first in the nation and it sparked about a dozen other cities, including San Jose, Mountain View, Santa Rosa and Brisbane, to pass similar laws. It is “in response to the growing movement to phase out fossil fuels, and in recognition of the health and safety concerns over natural gas, including leaks and pipeline explosions,” Arreguín wrote. The law is an important step in reaching Berkeley’s goal of being fossil-free by 2030, he added.

Lobbyists must register for whom they work

Also starting on Jan. 1 is a requirement for people who lobby city officials to declare that they are doing so. The Lobbyist Registration Act requires lobbyists to register for an annual $500 fee. There is an online portal.

A local governmental lobbyist is defined as anyone who receives $1,000 or more a month to communicate directly with any elected or appointed city official employee to influence proposed or pending governmental action or is a salaried employee, officer, or director of a corporation, organization or association who does the same thing,

“This Act will promote greater transparency by providing the public with information on who is a lobbyist and their interactions with local officials,” Arreguín wrote.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...