Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown, who on Sunday was honored by an Amistad (Friendship) Award for service to the Hispanic community, had an about-face epiphany, a throng of landscapers and yard workers had an impromptu celebration, and the Sonoma City Council watched a 3-to-2 majority in favor of banning gas-powered leaf blowers, shrink to a 2-to-3 minority.
On Monday night, the second reading of an ordinance creating a gas-powered leaf blower ban ran into Brown’s epiphany and the ban was defeated.
With that, the expected resolution of what Sonoma citizen Darryl Ponicsan has described as a “clear and present nuisance” that generates “raucous, nerve-wracking noise, ” was transformed into a victory for professional landscapers and gardeners who protested the ban would put their livelihoods at risk.
Brown, who spoke candidly after the meeting, explained that, “There is a grace period between the first and second reading of the ordinance. I had time to reflect … And I definitely feel that winning the Amistad Award was a part of it.”
On Oct. 7, the council voted 3-to-2 to approve the first reading of an ordinance banning all leaf blowers powered by internal combustion engines, but allowing for continued use of electric leaf blowers.
At the time, Mayor Brown announced, “I’m not prepared tonight for a ban on all types of leaf blowers, but I will support a gas ban…”
His vote then broke a 2-2 tie, with Councilmembers Barbose and Gallian in favor of the ban while Mayor Pro Tem Tom Rouse and Councilmember David Cook were opposed.
Brown’s Monday night reversal was foreshadowed, Ponicsan later said, by a conversation he had with the mayor the previous week. According to Ponicsan, Brown told him, “I’m being pummeled” by landscapers and roofers.
But reflecting on his change of heart the next day, Brown explained, “I related to the audience last night. Like them I’m blue collar, I live paycheck to paycheck … There is a class issue here and my sympathies are always with the people at the bottom end of the class structure. These are fantastic citizens and citizens-to-be.”
Brown insisted no one pressured him to change his vote. “I was not pressured or approached by any of the landscapers,” he said. “This was not some sort of corporate power move. And I was not contacted by the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce … I really did have an epiphany.”
Brown also described receiving an emailed message from Sonoma minister James J. Rawls, encouraging him and other council members to practice “moral imagination,” defined as “standing in the shoes of a stakeholder and asking how a proposed decision will affect that stakeholder.”
Echoed Brown, “The more I put myself in their position (the landscapers), the more (the ban) didn’t feel right.”
Ponicsan, who spent more than nine months doggedly urging the council to address the ban, circulating petitions, researching the issue and urging anyone who would listen to pay attention to the noise and negative health effects of gas blowers, said he is through with his campaign.
“I’m worn out,” he said Tuesday. “I view it as an exercise in futility.”
But Ponicsan added that he hoped one positive outcome from the campaign could be that the Sonoma Valley Unified School District will follow through on a promise made when the ban seemed imminent.
School district property would have been exempt form the ban, but Ponicsan said superintendent Louann Carlomagno earlier assured him she had already directed that gas-powered leaf blowers not be used by landscapers at district schools.
“I wish I could be sure that will happen,” he said.