Town Square

Gardeners file claim against city over leaf blowers

Original post made by Bill D'Agostino, Palo Alto Weekly reporter, on Jun 9, 2006

Gardeners and leaf-blower manufacturers are threatening a $5.5 million lawsuit against the City of Palo Alto, claiming the City Council violated the Federal Clean Air Act when it banned gas-powered leaf blowers last year.

The federal law prohibits cities from setting their own emissions standards, according to attorney William M. Guerry, Jr., who is representing the Bay Area Gardeners Association and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

Yesterday, Guerry filed a claim, the first step to a lawsuit, with the city, alleging the ban created an illegal patchwork of standards. The ban does not prohibit electric-powered blowers, which can be just as loud as the gas-powered models, he noted.

"I think it's outrageous and I think a court would find the city culpable and demand remunerations to the gardeners," Guerry said.

The lawsuit would also seek to end the ban.

Senior Deputy City Attorney Donald Larkin said the ordinance does not regulate air emissions.

"This is a regulation of leaf blowers primarily based on noise concerns," he said.

The council had passed the ban in 2000, after a bevy of complaints from residents about both the noise and dirt the gas-powered blowers produced. For years, the council delayed implementation to see if technological advances would make the need for the ban void. Last June, the council decided to go ahead with the ban. Numerous Latino gardeners protested at the meeting, saying the action would threaten their livelihoods.

Since, the gardeners have repeatedly asked, to no avail, that the council reconsider the ordinance.

"Given the exposure, we're just amazed the city hasn't returned our phone calls or the gardeners' phone calls," Guerry said.

The attorney also alleges the city pulled a bait-and-switch. During the period between 2000 and 2005 the gardeners purchased quieter gas-powered blowers to try to appease the council, Guerry said.

The attorney argued that the city's delay implementing the ban was a promise to not enforce the ordinance should technology improve.

"We think Palo Alto should live up to its commitments," Guerry said. "It's legally and morally obligated to do so."

The gardeners hope to recoup the $4 milllion they spent on quieter leaf-blowers and another $1 million in lost income. Manufacturers of leaf blowers are also seeking $500,000 in lost sales.

Larkin said the council never promised to repeal the ordinance.

"I'm not aware of any agreement between the city and the gardeners association," he said.


1 person likes this
Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 9, 2006 at 9:56 pm

Ban them all on the basis of noise violations! For the first time in a decade one can bike around this town without feeling like one is in a clear cut forest zone with chainsaws buzzing.

Get rid of tthose darn leafblowers, INCLUDING the electric ones! Gardners can then charge more money

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Posted by Very Tas
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 9, 2006 at 10:00 pm

Also, I wonder how much of that $5.5M that mercenary Guerry will take home if the snowball does freeze in hell, and he wins his lame case. Pathetic!

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Posted by Noah
a resident of University South
on Jun 9, 2006 at 10:38 pm

Should any city council person ever read this, here's a solid vote/request for the gas powered ban to remain in effect. I've heard both gas & electric leaf blowers and the gas ones are far noisier.

Three properties around us, including my own each use electric blowers on occasion and they are really not that noisy at all. Given the slight overhead of needing a long cord, the neighbors (and us) occasionally just use an old fashioned broom/rake and they work just fine thank you.

While I sympathize with those contractors who have now have to use an electric, I can't see how this was (primarily) an emissions ban in conflict with federal law. Tons of surrounding cities have banned gas blowers, mowers, etc - as they're just too noisy.

1 person likes this
Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 10, 2006 at 11:34 am

The ban should stay in effect.
As a matter of fact we should begin the process for a state law to ban the gas leaf blowers.
The noisier and far more powerful gas blowers throw a ton of dust in the air. On that basis the EPA should be involved and supportive.
Perhaps we should expand the ordinance to include electric blowers over a certain decibel.
My neighbors use small electric blowers in their yards that are not offensive and I have yet to see dust flying from them.
I bid good riddance to the big blowers for the Mow, Blow and Go contractors and hope the city does the right thing and fights for our rights.

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Posted by Larry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2006 at 9:38 pm

A ban on all gas-powered gardening tools is way overdue. They cause extreme air and noise pollution, it's that simple. Electric mowers, blowers, and trimmers have been available for a long time, and the gardeners could have avoided trouble by switching over early instead of waiting for the law to change. I would never hire gardener who uses gas-powered tools - or any kind of blower for that matter. Are the hourly wages so high that we can't afford to have them rake our yard once a month or so?

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Posted by Matt
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jun 15, 2006 at 10:37 am

The ban needs to stay in effect. In fact, I wish Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Sunnyvale, and other surrounding cities would enact and enforce bans as well, so that gardners understand this is a widespread, persistent problem that they can't just ignore or avoid.

When I was younger, leafblowers were unheard of (and unheard), and most gardening was done by local kids or the homeowners (and I'm not even 40!). Over the years, the use of leafblowers has skyrocketed, as has the ire of anyone forced to be near them. The only reason there isn't MORE outrage over their use is because many people are mercifully at work or school during the day and aren't aware of the problem. But some people work at night and need to sleep during the day, others are at home full time, others are just passing by.

It's absolutely not true that electric leafblowers are as noisy as gas-powered ones, and they are certainly less annoying and less penetrating. The noise of gas-powered leaf blowers can carry for a large distance and penetrate buildings with their annoying, buzzy whine at multiple frequencies (both high and low), so that in many cases residents were bothered by multiple leaf blowers from different locations each day, let alone each week, before the ban went into effect, and closing doors and windows (as if they should have to!) would only slightly dampen the racket. (The noise of electric leafblowers, on the other hand, doesn't carry nearly as far and is easily blocked out by closed windows, due to their smooth, steady noise lacking low frequencies. Thus, fewer leafblowers are audible from any one location, the noise is much more easily blocked when they are heard, and the noise produced is not as annoying in the first place.)

In addition, they are luckly federal or state clean-air regulations don't already ban gas-powered leafblowers on emissions grounds! As cars and other sources have been tackled, small engines are one of the next big targets. Even if the gardners were to win their ridiculous lawsuit, they might end up being banned NATIONALLY before too long anyway (or at least have to buy significantly cleaner models).

In addition, while gardners made many claims about using quieter leafblowers in a more sensitive manner so that a ban wouldn't be needed, MOST OF THEM WEREN'T DOING IT. They were still routinely blasting the loudest leafblowers at full power (sometimes two at a time at a single location), even as people asked them to stop, held their fingers in their ears, or choked on the dust as they passed by.

While many scofflaw gardners routinely ignore the ban to this day (and thus disrespect the residents of the town they are providing services in), it has nevertheless had enough of an effect to make a dramatic improvement overall.

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Posted by Gina Pera
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2006 at 8:55 pm

San Mateo

I support fully your efforts to ban the nuisances. Why stop at blowers, though? Today, my neighbor's yard crew ran at least four machines, each one louder than the next, and most of the "work" not even necessary! So much gratuitous noise!

One used the blower to chase a leaf around the backyard for five mintues (not kidding!), and the other came with the lawn mower to chew up the leaf. They used an edger (very noisy) on a part of the yard that no one even sees -- or can see. Then, in the front, they used ENORMOUS gas-powered hedgeclippers (I clocked at 70 decibels from 100 feet away) to shape and smoothe two little bushes. Ridiculous!

What happens is that people who've never touched a garden implement and who know nothing about gardening turn over the yard to people who've often spent no time in a garden either, very low paid workers who are handed a noisy appliance and told to move it around a lot.

Juniper bushes are very slow-growing. They do not need trimming every week!

Our driveways needn't be so clean of each twig and leaf. What is this fixation?

Flower beds do not need the bejesus blown out of them every week! It's bad for the beds and bad for our air.

Have we all lost our minds to allow this?

We live at the top of a hill near Belmont, and it starts at 7 a.m. every day -- the lawn appliances, the wood-chippers, the Skil-Saws....

As a volunteer, I work in the area of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Many children and adults in Silicon Valley suffer from ADHD as well as auditory-processing disorders. Scientists are finding that the increased noise in our environment contributes to cognitive processing disorders. (Yes, ADHD is largely genetic, but as the geneticists say..."Genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.)

This noise has to stop. The noisy motorcycles droning through all of our hiking areas. The Homeland Security planes making our yards feel like a D-day landing. Is there an organization -- Peninsula-wide -- through which we can gather voices? Without a united citizenry, we'll never win against the lobbyists (and that includes blower manufacturers, pilots organizations, etc.)

I'll start it if a few will join me.

Gina Pera
San Mateo

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Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2006 at 5:45 am

Gee, I live in PA and having been calling the police to report bandit leaf blowers for ages...I still hear gas powered blowers all over PA, or the noisy electric ones. There has been little effective enforcement of the ban, the homeowner/landlord should be the one who gets fined if his gardener breaks the rules, the fine should be increased to support the burden of enforcement.

There are so many gardeners/yard cleaners in Palo Alto that during 9-5 (the blower hours), there is a constant stream of gas-electric powered appliances in the neighborhood.

It does not matter whether you use gas or electric, the big hair dryers blow dust with pollen, cat and dog poo, as well as rat, bird and other animals that use your garden as a toilet.

Concerning the gardeners' lawsuit - stick it back to them, we should suit their association for noise/air/ polution and damage to cars and structures by improperly using their tools, etc.

I have no problem with the gardeners charging more for the silent service, like our old Japanese gardener who didn't own a power tool and would only come 1 a month, the garden was always pretty - who cares about a few leaves on the ground?

I would support a state ban on noisy tools like these - what did we do in the 60 and 70s to keep the garden clean? Rake+kids = allowance and clean yard.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 5, 2006 at 2:13 pm

I hope the city council won't be intimidated by the lawsuit. Please let council members know how you feel about topic, since it will be up for disucussion soon.

Apparently the gardeners' lawyers are telling them they do not have to comply with the ordinance.

If you see gardeners using a gas-powered leaf blower, you can report them by calling Community Service Officer Stacy Henderson at 329-2210. Provide the gardeners' license plate number and the address where you see them working. Gardeners get two warnings before being issued a citation. FAQs on the leaf blower ordinance can be found at Web Link

For more info on this topic see:

EPA considering using California small-engine rules nationally
Web Link

Noise Pollution comments by a doctor
Web Link

The politics of pollution: " . . . small engines (not just lawn mowers -- leaf blowers, chain saws, stuff like that) put in excess of 22 tons of smog-forming chemicals into the air each day in California. That's equivalent to the gunk produced by 800,000 cars a day."
Web Link

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Posted by Rita
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2006 at 5:35 pm

The gardners should be able to use the gas blowers. I find them to be much quieter and they get the job done faster. I have followed the city's interaction with the gas and now electric blower use and I think our elected officials have bigger issues to deal with. Let the gardners use the best tools they prefer and leave them alone to do the daily work other people do not have the time or ability to do. I do not have a front lawn and do my own gardening now, but I have used gardeners in the past. Yes, there is some dust blowing in the air, but is not anywhere as big a problem as the city street sweepers.

For example, just last week ( June 27 )as I was walking to my house the sweeper came by and raised so much dirt,dust and grit I had to brush it off my clothes and I had to clean my glasses. This happens most weeks. I see it all up and down Middlefield and some of the side streets too. There is a lot of construction in my area and the street sweeping raises more dust in the air than it cleans up. Maybe if they wet the street before thay sweep like they used to it would not be such a problem.

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Posted by jason the gardener
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2006 at 10:24 pm

The palo alto community coming through with its stuck up unreasonalble actions. There are much bigger problems than those of gas powered lawn equipment. Don't think so? Then just drive all your Toyota Prius' down to 101 or 280 at 7 in the morning. Wah Wah, someone needs a band aid. Not an inconveinance? If it was just so easy to do things with electric blowers, and equipment, than people would probably do their own lawns. What if we banned automobiles and made all you yuppies drive to work, or better yet the grocery store. Not very praticle. The only reason such laws get past is because you people think you're better than everyone, and like to pick on those who actually sweat will working. Power trip on someone else, I'll take my expertease to people who will appriciate the hard working blue collar american. And then maybe other gardeners will follow my vote and ban the yuppies of palo alto, and then you ungrateful scum can go out and actually get dirty for once and do your own yard.

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Posted by Gary working at home
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2006 at 3:32 pm

Congratulations to Palo Alto for banning the use of leaf blowers. Now, what need to be done to get the City of San Jose to do the same?

Leaf blowing is ubiquitous in San Jose. Spend an afternoon riding around on your bicycle and just see if you don't get dirt blown into your face. The noise is penetrating, too. If you worked at home, like many people in this valley now do, you'd get the noise and dust from all directions, not only from yards on either side but from across the street and sometimes from blocks away. These are not the neighbors per se using these machines, but young boys employed by yard services.

P.S. The infernal racket is outside my window as I write this. I'll stop what I'm doing to shut all the windows, but I don't think it's my job to personally confront all of San Jose's noise and pollution offenders. There needs to be a law!

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Posted by Elizabeth Lee
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 13, 2006 at 9:20 pm

I'm one of the people who worked hard to get the gas blower ban passed and words cannot express how much more peaceful and less stressful my life is now. I had to report all the blower users in my neighborhood, some of them several times, for the noise to stop, and now I can enjoy my backyard whenever I have time without that noisy racket ruining it. Now the gardeners use electric blowers, most of which are far quieter and don't send me running for cover.
What we have now is a legal recourse for those of us, like myself, who work at home and need a good work environment. Hopefully the ban will become nation wide. While I agree that some electric models are rather noisy, and other landscape machines as well, the improvement we have now is, for me, a dream come true.

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Posted by Susan Polchert
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 21, 2007 at 8:51 am

Help! Eugene Oregon is considering a ban on leaf blowers or limiting their use. The city council votes next week. I support a ban. Any advice appreciated. Thanks, Susan of Eugene

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Posted by Late Person
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

I get awakened every week by a noisy leafblower. I am in a
"reisdential/commercial" zone, so they fire it up at 8am.
Apparently, that's still legal. They are literally 5 feet from
my window, and 8 feet from my right ear. On top of that, the workers are illegal. Why can't we start by enforcing THAT law?

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Posted by What's the issue
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

This is really not a technical issue of sound/dirt/disrupting the peace. It's an issue of the rights of the undocumented.

Can a liberal city make a law that disproportionally impacts the undocumented? Need such a law be obeyed?

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Posted by rake
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 22, 2011 at 11:41 am

A rake is good enough for me. Why isn't it good enough for professional gardeners? If a rake takes a little more time, just charge a little more.

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Posted by Matt
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Snobbish, boorish, wealthy elite: if you remembered anything about accruing wealth or business, it's that time is money. The more time it takes a gardener to finish work on a property, the less time they have to see other clients and therefore makes less. Charge a client more to account for the time differential, then they risk losing clients to others who might be willing to do it for less. And to consider that you have no fiscal investment in this ban, your ignorance is really showing hard and it ain't cute. Now if you were all the ones doing the gardening, ban away. But you aren't.

These gardeners went through city-recommended best practices to continue their livelihoods and were then told to basically f*** off...all because you want to keep your communities pristine. Yet I doubt many of you do the majority to keep your community pristine. You outsource it to folks of color and then regulate the hell out of them.

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Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Palo Alto, and every other town deserves some limits on noise and air pollution. The obvious answer is to fine the property owners, not the gardeners. This would prevent undercutting wages of the gardeners.

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Posted by Parent of asthmatic child
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm

I have tried to pay gardeners extra to rake instead of use those blowers, but they always have some new employee who forgets. It spreads weed seeds around - significantly increasing weed problems - and makes the house really dirty, for one. The clouds of dirt and dust are a nightmare for asthmatics. It's usually impossible to avoid several of these clouds nearly every school day on the way to school. I was so glad to hear when they were banned, then realized it was just the type of equipment!

We haven't had a gardener now for years, purely because I can't seem to rely on anyone to always remember NOT to use the blowers.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I have come to a greater appreciation of the issue of leaf blowers. They have roared back into heavy use here.
I think they should be used as appropriate - and that is a big thing because they are used all the time, 6 days a week - for extended periods - where I live! Some gardeners just blow leaves, dirt, trash, dust into the street onto passing cars - people have to step off the sidewalk. I can see with periodic heavy leafdrop that blowers make sense for very limited use. It is ridiculous to see the constant use - sometimes they are only blowing dust and dirt. For many, many years rakes were sufficient in the typically smallish yards such as one has in Palo Alto.

2 people like this
Posted by Loves peace and quiet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm

The noise in Palo Alto is horrific. Aircraft noise going to SFO is extreme and exacerbated by helicoptors, traffic, idling vehicles, year round construction, road re-dos, etc. One cannot find a quiet spot outdoors and often indoors as well. Palo Alto is worse than a boiler factory!

Studies document the stress response to noise.

I applaud this ban by City Palo Alto to protect citizens health and well being.It is crucial.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Oct 2, 2014 at 9:19 pm

If the majority of Palo Alto residents had to rake and dispose of their own leaf debris, this ban would be repealed immediately.

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Posted by Julian
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

The noise of a leaf blower is nothing compared to the constant noise of planes flying over my house all day!

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

What's their beef? The city doesn't enforce the ordinance.