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Raucous, nerve-wracking noise

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At first glance, it should be one of the less complicated public policy issues to confront any city.

On the one hand, there is the emotionally satisfying opinion that gas-powered leaf blowers (and perhaps their electrified cousins) are spawn of satan, demonic, howling, inhuman, ear shattering, raucous, nerve wracking (remember those last two terms) and utterly unnecessary mechanical obscenities that shatter the bucolic quiet of our small town while fouling the air we breath with all manner of dangerous dirt and hydrocarbon fumes and that should, in any civilized society, be banned.

On the other hand, there is the understandable anxiety of landscapers, professional gardeners and other workers who trim and tend and shape and arrange our lawns and gardens, our Plaza and parks and other public and private places, and for whom leaf-blowers are, they swear, an essential labor-saving device that makes their work both faster and more affordable. Without the mechanical tornadoes, they insist, the cost and the time required to keep our lawns, driveways, gutters, parking lots and leaf-strewn landscapes clean would be prohibitive.

Who’s right?

Perhaps both camps have legitimate points in this perennial debate. On both sides there are legitimate issues relating to private property rights as well as the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. But, after extensive research, and a bit of reflection on the foundation values of civilized society, we come to the conclusion that, given the perfectly functional, tried-and-true technology employed by our forebears (and by those of us who, as children, cleared away mountains of autumn leaves with nothing more sophisticated than a hand-powered rake) leaf blowers are not essential tools for tending landscapes and the public’s collective right to peace, quiet and clean air should trump the individual’s right to employ a wailing, nuisance-causing, raucous, nerve-wracking noise (there are those terms again) for the sake of a tidy lawn and sidewalk. They should be banned.

At least 32 California cities have already done so, including Berkeley, Beverly Hills and Mill Valley. But, as leaf-blower ban crusader Darryl Ponicsan points out, no city in Sonoma County has yet taken that step, not even nuclear-free Sebastopol.

We could recite here all the ecological, public health and quality of life reasons for banning blowers, but they will likely be reiterated Wednesday night as the Sonoma City Council considers whether or not to revisit the issue (airborne fecal matter is a powerful persuader). Suffice it to say, cities with bans in place (Carmel’s goes back to 1975) report no down side and near universal public approval.

We think it’s time for Sonoma to set a local precedent, and municipal law apparently agrees. “Raucous, nerve-wracking noise” is already prohibited.

SIT error – Health Center not in escrow yet

Tuesday’s front-page story about the Todd Trust grant to the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center had one glaring error. The center has not closed escrow. The $100,000 Todd Trust grant went toward a due diligence deposit, but the Center must raise an additional $400,000 by Sept. 20. Donations are urgently being sought.