SAN LEANDRO | Sept. 21, 2011 | San Leandro passed a city-wide ban on polystyrene containers in its restaurants Monday night, but the 5-1 decision was far more contentious than first glance.

Despite one speaker saying it will be an “embarrassment” if the city did not pass the ordinance against food containers made up of the toxic polystyrene material that often becomes unsightly litter around town, the council, at times, appeared to veer in that path before approving the ordinance set to begin next year.

The lone dissenting vote, Councilwoman Diana Souza said while she was in favor of the environmental aspects of the ban, believed the ordinance was too restrictive toward the city’s restaurant owners. The cost of compostable or paper containers is more costly than plastic or polystyrene. A small business owner, herself, Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak chose to abstain after issuing an anti-regulation rebuke aimed at city policies. She believes the city has failed to encourage business growth and enticements to entrepreneurs looking to move their operations to San Leandro.

“How much neurotoxin do your kids need?” Councilman Jim Prola responded. The liberal councilman first raised the issue earlier this year. According to a staff report, 70 percent of Alameda County residents already live in cities under various restriction on polystyrene containers in restaurants. Last year, Hayward passed a similar ban with far less objection from its small business restaurant owners than was exhibited Monday in San Leandro.

One long-time San Leandro business owner told the council he voluntarily switched away from polystyrene, but also criticized the ban for being too focused on one industry and chided them for following the leader. “Hey, look what we did!” he said of the council’s potential aims with the ban. “You’re just following Hayward’s bandwagon.”

Included in the approved ban on polystyrene is a grace period for area restaurant owners to find suitable options and less costly solutions to the ban. San Leandro diners will begin taking home leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch in more environmentally-friendly containers starting in November 2012.