Editorial: Of hearts and minds and leaf blowers

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“It is no longer within my ability to make this decision. The people should decide.”

And with those words, Sonoma City Councilmember Rachel Hundley may have put a fork in the long-held dreams of some residents that the city would enact a ban on leaf blowers.

Hundley’s surprise vote at the Oct. 5 council meeting to bring the leaf blower issue to the November 2016 ballot (joining Councilmember Gary Edwards and Mayor David Cook, who has been calling for a public vote for months) was a blow of a different kind to members of SNALB (Sonoma Neighbors Against Leaf Blowers), the local group which has been lobbying Hundley and other council members heavily to support their call to ban what they say (and few would argue) are noisy, dusty nuisances.

Hundley had previously lent her tentative support for a ban on gas-powered blowers, and a partial ban on electric, but said she had a change of heart in recent months as it became clear to her that the vast majority of town residents don’t support the ban. No fan of leaf blowers herself, Hundley said she’d be supporting a ban, but doing so next November as a registered voter.

Hundley said she’d been warned by a pro-ban resident that if she wavered from her earlier support, it would be a “stain on my character” and would harm her future as an elected leader.

In both cases, in fact, the opposite is true.

In voting her conscience, the first-year councilwoman knowingly disappointed a small, but well-organized segment of the Sonoma electorate – some of whom have boasted that a similar reversal last year by former councilmember Ken Brown cost him his seat. She voted on what she thought was in the best interests of the community, and not in the best interests of a possible 2018 re-election campaign. That took guts.

There’s a fallacy in politics – one that runs the gamut from national campaigns to local elections – that changing one’s mind on an issue is a sign of weakness. And that may be the case if the change is done for political motives. But quite often, as in the case of Hundley and leaf blowers, it’s a sign of open-mindedness and a willingness to form an opinion, yet continue to gather information and receive feedback – even when, god forbid, that information runs contrary to one’s previously held belief.

It’s also a bogus argument to suggest that in steering toward a public vote on the matter, the council dodged making a decision. No, they made bold a decision – that a three-person majority on the city council wouldn’t be representative of the thousands of Sonomans who have a strong opinion about such strict regulations on blustery landscaping machines. And, no, they don’t have to suddenly hold elections for all controversial matters. It’s not a precedent, it’s an exception. And a smart one at that.

At the meeting, Hundley said she’d been awake the entire night before, worrying about the fallout from her decision.

She’ll lose some votes, for sure. But she’s gained something more important.

She should sleep soundly now, as well.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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