Menlo bans gas-powered leaf blowers

Publication Date: Friday Feb 13, 1998

MENLO PARK: Menlo bans gas-powered leaf blowers

Gardeners say decision will hurt business, raise costs

by Jim Harrington

The Menlo Park City Council hit the off button on gas-powered leaf blowers on Tuesday with a 3-1 vote in favor of banning those noisy--yet convenient--gardening tools. The vote came following several impassioned speeches before the council from residents, who wanted the ban, and gardeners, who say it's a poorly reasoned idea.

For many, the debate centered on one issue: "Noise," Council member Paul Collachi said. "Plain and simple."

But gardeners spoke of the economic hardships that the ban may cause. Without the gas-powered blowers, the reasoning goes, it will take longer to complete each job, using just a rake and broom. That means the gardeners will likely have to charge higher prices. Higher prices may mean that some customers will stop using gardeners.

And, at least one gardener believes the option of using electric blowers to be a poor one at best. Salvador Sandoval, a Menlo Park resident and longtime gardener, said electric blowers make just as much noise as the gas ones.

"If you are going to ban one, ban them all. And ban lawnmowers and hedgers, and we will just use push mowers. And then we will stop using cars, and we will take a donkey and go to Los Angeles," Sandoval said.

The ban is one brick in the construction of a comprehensive noise plan, which the city is currently considering. Collachi said that the blower ban was something that the council could chip out of the bigger picture and take care of now.

Collacchi was one of the three council members who voted to approve the ban. Council member Bob Burmeister represented the sole no vote, and council member Bernie Nevin was absent. Burmeister said despite the turnout at the meeting, he doubts there is overwhelming support from residents.

"I'm not convinced the people of Menlo Park want an all-out ban," he said.

The ordinance will return for a second reading and final adoption on March 10. After that there will be a grace period of 90 days before the ordinance goes into affect.

The council decision follows its Jan. 6 instructions to the City Attorney William McClure to prepare a draft ordinance to ban the blowers. Consideration was given to a partial ban, one that might have limited the use of the blowers to certain distances away from residences. But, after reviewing ordinances adopted by the cities of Los Altos, Carmel and Los Angeles, and listening to input from different interested parties, McClure came back with a recommendation for a total ban.

"In the end, after consultation with the chief of police, we have concluded that the most effective, enforceable and fair ordinance is to ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers in the entire city," according to a staff report presented to the council.

"There is really no rational basis for banning leaf blowers in one area of the city and permitting them in another area as they have the same noise, air pollution and other problems wherever they are in use," the report stated.

The staff report outlined the reasoning for the ban.

"Gasoline-powered leaf blowers, even the newer and more quiet version, create noise with a volume, pitch and tone that is very irritating and offensive to a great number of people as evidenced by the strong outpouring of sentiment in favor of a citywide band," the report stated. "The pitch/tone of the gasoline-powered leaf blower is unique to that piece of equipment."

Also, the report continues, these tools blow small particulate matter into the air, which may constitute a health hazard. Furthermore, emissions from the leaf blowers are a cause of air pollution and smog. Finally, the report argues that the use of blowers can add to bay and creek pollution since the leaves often wind up in storm drains, which flow to the creek and then on to the bay. Oxygen is required to break down the leaves, thus depriving fish of necessary oxygen in the creek and bay, according to the report.

Palo Alto is also considering a ban on leaf blowers. The City Council voted Jan. 26 to refer the issue to the Policy and Services Committee, which will return with a recommendation in late April or early May. Julie Rawe of the Country Almanac contributed to this report. 

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