On a split vote, the Sonoma City Council took a controversial stand against gas-powered leaf blowers Monday night and approved the first reading of an ordinance that will ban all leaf blowers powered by internal combustion engines, as well as the use of gas or diesel-powered generators to run electric leaf blowers. Electric-powered leaf blowers, per se, were not affected.
In an additional clause, the council decreed that no leaf blower “shall be operated in a manner that directs dust and debris onto any neighboring parcel.”
The 3-to-2 vote in favor of banning gas blowers followed more than an hour of public comment and council debate, during which 24 people stepped to the podium, almost half opposed to the ban. Thirteen people expressed support for it, although one of them, Karen Barto, described a personal negotiation she had with her landscaping company after which “they switched to a rake and we were fine.”
Landscapers who testified, unanimously opposed the ordinance, claiming it would drive up costs and necessitate an expensive investment in electric-powered blowers.
Craig Martin, a Sonoma landscaper with “a two-man business – myself and my son,” warned the council that conversion to electric blowers would cost more than $2,000.
And Paul Gorce, a Third Street West resident who is not a landscaper, nevertheless blistered the council for even considering the ban. “I’m getting tired of people telling me I can’t do this and I can’t do that. Next it will be chain saws and chippers, lawn mowers … you’re going to cost people a lot of money, especially these people who go around cleaning up lawns and lots …”
At the other end of the spectrum was Georgia Kelly, founder of the Praxis Peace Institute, who recently returned from a month in Europe where, “I didn’t hear a leaf blower the whole time.” Kelly, a Sonoma resident, reported watching municipal workers in a large European city park raking leaves, and said she supports “a total ban on all leaf blowers. Electric blowers blow the same amount of dust, pollen and fecal matter up our noses and who knows where else.”
Allen Olinger, an eastside Sonoma resident, countered that his landscaper comes one day a week to service four or five houses, leaves no debris in the street and is gone within two hours.
He criticized a “self-appointed group (who) want to put offenders in jail – it’s just crazy. It’s ‘my way or the highway,’ Neighbors like these didn’t really work out too well for Anne Frank,” he said.
But for Broadway resident Rick Suerth, who said he works from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. in his home office and takes numerous conference calls two days a week, nearby leaf blowers are often so loud, “sometimes I have to take calls in the bathroom. I don’t want to put these guys out of business, but I don’t want to be put out of business either.”
And Darryl Ponicsan, the screenwriter and novelist who spearheaded the campaign against gas blowers and writes in a backyard office bordered by four other residences that all employ leaf blowers, decried the “aggression, threats and name calling” from opponents of the ban.