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August 10, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Leaf it to the law Leaf it to the law (August 10, 2005)

A month after the ban, effects are mixed

by Jocelyn Dong

Adan Romero wasn't happy last week.

Turning off his black Toro electric leaf blower, its orange cord snaking along the sidewalk, the professional gardener frowned when asked about Palo Alto's new ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

"It's hard for us," he said while tidying up a yard in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood. "A job used to take one hour, and now, one hour and 45 minutes."

Is he getting compensated for the additional time?

No, he said. "Same price."

One month after the citywide ban went into effect, residents and gardeners say the results are mixed. In Crescent Park, the chatter on the neighborhood e-mail list has concerned the increase in price some gardeners are requesting. One neighbor was shocked to receive a bill for double the usual amount.

On July 1, the city adopted a prohibition on gas-powered leaf blowers in residential areas following periodic discussion of the topic over years. This spring, some locals had lobbied for the ban, citing noise and health concerns over dust the blowers stir up. Other residents, and gardeners with the Bay Area Gardeners Association called the prohibition unnecessary.

Even as people try to adjust to the new rule, strong feelings linger.

Romero gestured toward the wooden fence. Electric leaf blowers aren't as strong as gas ones and don't clean as well between fences and bushes, he said. He and his assistant have taken to raking by hand.

"It's not good," Romero said, adding the work is only going to get harder in the winter.

Across town, Romero has an ally in John Armstrong. The Midtown resident has a 100-foot-long gravel driveway that's difficult to clean, even with the electric leaf-blower his gardener bought last month.

Making matters harder, he only has one electrical outlet outside of his home and it's in the back.

Armstrong doesn't see the point in banning gas blowers but allowing electric. The noise level, he said, is about the same.

"It's kind of ridiculous to make a charge that one is worse than others," Armstrong said.

Like Romero, Armstrong thinks the impact of the ban will be felt this fall, when trees start to shed their leaves. Then the gardeners will do more raking and raise their prices accordingly.

But some are pleased with the rule.

Liz Lee, who previously complained about listening to blower noise for 15 hours a month, calls the newfound quiet "blissful."

"It's just like a dream come true," said Lee, who can now hear birds and leaves rustling in the breeze. She said she gets a sense of well-being from nature and is enjoying the peace and quiet.

There are still wrinkles to be worked out, though.

Despite the improvements, Lee said one neighbor's gardener continues to use a gas-powered blower, and she's left notes for the neighbor explaining the new ban.

Still, compliance has been far better than Lee expected.

"I have a lot of respect for the BAGA (Bay Area Gardeners Association) gardeners. They're not happy with it, but they've been cooperative for the most part. And I think that really says a lot for them," she said.

Madeleine Roegiers, who raised concerns over dust being blown into the air, said that her neighbors' gardeners aren't able to do as thorough a job -- and that's just fine with her.

"With the gas blowers, there was not a leaf left on the property. Now I see little leaves at the edges," she said. "Nature has to be nature."

According to Police Chief Lynne Johnson, the department is receiving 20 to 40 phone calls a day from residents, including both complaints and questions. July was a grace period, but as of this month, the penalty for using a gas-powered blower will be $100. Operating on a three strikes principle, the violators will receive two warnings before receiving a citation.

No one's been cited yet, although one person has received two warnings, Johnson said.

Residents wishing to lodge a complaint against a gardener should have the license plate number of the vehicle, she added.

To further explain the ban, the police department will insert a brochure into residents' utility bills next month. Residents can also visit the department's leaf-blower Web site at

Senior Staff Writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at [email protected]

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