A better solution to leaf blowers

Different observers have different interpretations of the psycho-spiritual event that occurred inside the head and heart of Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown Monday night. Brown says he experienced an epiphany that inspired him to reverse his position and vote against a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

The presence of 30 or more “working class” Hispanic landscapers in the anteroom of the council chambers, coupled with his Sunday night reception of the Amistad friendship award (given by Nuestra Voz) appears to have triggered some sort of neural alchemy.

Brown, himself, is refreshingly frank about the reasons for his change of heart, admitting that the Amistad Award was an influencing factor, and that, as a lifelong “blue-collar” American, he identified with Hispanic workers “at the bottom end of the class structure.”

Injecting the subject of class into the leaf blower debate rankled a number of observers (witness some of the opinions expressed on this page), but we don’t think that’s the relevant issue here.

Clearly, industry pressure, however it was expressed and however Brown heard it, influenced his vote. He has said as much. There’s nothing implicitly wrong with that, unless it involved money, gifts or other gratuities, and no one is suggesting it did.

More to the point, the landscaping industry packed the council meeting with a presence that leaf blower opponents either didn’t or couldn’t muster. Which raises the fundamental question of how much public support there would have been for the ban.

We’d like to suggest that it’s time to find out, and doing so should require that the question be framed in the context of well-researched facts, of which there were relatively few during the debate over and preparation for the ordinance that would have banned the devices.

It would have been valuable and wise to have solicited reports from officials in cities that have experience with leaf blower bans – including Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Palo Alto. It would also have been useful for the city to hold a public demonstration of the noise and debris clouds generated by typical leaf blowers in typical environments, like yards and parking lots, so that citizens could judge for themselves, firsthand, what all the fuss is, or isn’t, about.

It has been speculated that some of the leaf blower’s most passionate defenders are relatively affluent homeowners who are never home when the landscapers arrive and thus are never exposed to the impacts.

It would also be useful to know the real, dollar cost comparisons between use of rakes and leaf blowers, and the implications of both on landscaping jobs and pay, so that both consumers and contractors could speak honestly and with authority on the subject. As things stand, we haven’t heard anything more than anecdotal reports and unreliable estimates.

It would also be wise to research the best information on health impacts from leaf blower use, if only to find out if any such data exists.

Were the city – perhaps with the financial support of landscapers as well as blower opponents – to assemble a truly comprehensive and reliable body of information on leaf blowers, disseminate that information to the public, and then place the issue of a ban on the next public ballot, it would be doing all of us, and the nation at large, a unique service.