Seattle would like you to suck a little less.
That's the message from last week's decision by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to prohibit the city's food service industry from offering plastic straws and utensils with their meals. The ban, which will take effect in July 2018, will apply to restaurants, but not grocery or supply stores.
Specifics of the policy have yet to be determined.
"Seattle is a super-progressive city, and we had a lot of support for phasing some of these things out," SPU spokesperson Becca Fong told the Seattle Times.
Whatever support exists for the straw ban is being marshaled by the Lonely Whale Foundation—co-founded by Entourage star Adrian Grenier. Earlier this month, the Foundation launched its "Strawless in Seattle" campaign.
The goal of the campaign—sponsored by big names like the Space Needle, CenturyLink field, and a clutch of famous restaurateurs—is to get Seattle restaurants to swap out their destructive plastic straws ($4.29 for a pack of 500) for the more environmentally-friendly paper straws ($25 for a pack of 400).
The added expense may lead some businesses to stop offering straws all together. That does not faze Lonely Whale Foundation Executive Director Dune Ives, who said at a Thursday press conference, "when they go to a restaurant they may not get a straw — and that's OK."
The level of celebrity and corporate support for this latest local progressive policy is uncommon. The lack of concern for people's pocket books and individual liberties is not.
Over the past several years, Seattle's tirelessly working city council has passed a stream of policies that leave increasingly little room for residents to make their own choices.
This includes the petty progressivism of the city's 2012 plastic bag ban, its recently passed soda tax (they'd rather subsidize your farmer's market trip instead), and its microscopic regulation of workers' schedules—all of which have made life more expensive and less convenient.
The city has also been chalking up impressive gains in the urban class struggle, passing a municipal income tax, a $15 dollar minimum wage, increasingly strict tenants' rights laws, and a first-in-the-nation Democracy Voucher program.
Sometimes these ordinances are clear violations of economic law. Take the $15 minimum wage, which has devastated the paychecks and employment prospects of low wage workers.
At other times, Seattle's initiatives are clear violations of the actual law. Its income tax is facing three separate lawsuits over its dubious legality. As is its publicly-funded Democracy Voucher program (covered by Reason here, here, and here) which is being sued for unconstitutionally compelling speech.
The cumulative effect of these regulations is a Seattle that is becoming increasingly inhospitable to the businesses and consumers that live there.
One small businessman told the Seattle City council just as much when it passed its soda tax back in June, saying "for the last four to five years, something new is coming every time, and its cutting our bottom line. Not only is it cutting our bottom line, we are decreasing our payroll, we are letting people go. We are giving people part time jobs, not the full time. The way things are happening, we will have to stand in our stores 24-hours."
This feeling is not limited to small business. Even some of the city's corporate titans are considering an exit. Boeing shifted hundreds of jobs out of the Puget Sound region in June. Amazon announced last week that it was looking to set up another "equal" headquarters outside of Seattle.
This latest straw ban won't break the camel's back, but it will be one more costly restriction on the people who live there. Should the steady stream of regulations keep up, many who currently call the Seattle home may look to follow Amazon to greener pastures.
Rent Free is a weekly newsletter from Christian Britschgi on urbanism and the fight for less regulation, more housing, more property rights, and more freedom in America's cities.