Dust in the Wind

Sebastopol and Sonoma move toward leaf-blower bans


The city councils of Sebastopol and Sonoma, both by 4-to-1 votes, moved closer this month toward banning leaf blowers. They could join dozens of California cities that already restrict what some describe as “debris” blowers. Though a few Marin County cities already ban them, no city in Sonoma or Napa counties yet does.

For its part, Sebastopol passed a comprehensive noise ordinance, prohibiting most noises above 55 decibels by day and 45 decibels by night. Leaf blowers tend to scream significantly above 55 decibels, as well as shoot air and debris up to 200 mph, kicking up many toxins. After Sept. 6, any Sebastopol resident can call the police for blower noise; violators can be fined up to $500.

Over in the valley, Sonoma referred the issue to its Community Services and Environment Commission. A ban was supported by strong editorials in both Sonoma newspapers and by articles and letters from various residents, as well as testimony at the city council meeting by eight residents. Lynn Clary, for example, objected to the blowers because they create “huge clouds of dust containing urine, feces and dog hair,” which regularly blow across her yard. Only one person defended the highly polluting machine.

Sonoma councilmembers Ken Brown and Joanne Sanders, who typically represent different constituencies, combined efforts to put a ban on the agenda. Objections to leaf blowers tend to unite people who differ on other political issues but agree that leaf blowers create noise and air pollution, and thus threaten the quality of life.

Sanders noted that leaf blowers are not used in France. “They vacuum the leaves,” she noted. “They have clotheslines there, and clotheslines and leaf blowers don’t go together well.”

On the day of the Sonoma vote, the ill-informed Santa Rosa Press Democrat launched its second defense of the harmful, frivolous blowers in an editorial with the subheadline “Sonoma should listen before enacting possible blower bans.” Actually, that newspaper should listen to the majority of local residents, who seem to favor a ban.

The editorial echoes the fear of change with the erroneous charge that there are “those who depend on blowers for their livelihoods.” Some landscapers do fear changing away from blowers to sweepers, vacuums, rakes and brooms, but they have not presented documented evidence of the loss of jobs in the many cities where bans have been enacted.

In fact, more people are usually hired when bans pass and less money goes to buy, maintain and fuel machines and protective gear. Green, sustainable landscapers and gardeners who do not use blowers have received business boosts in Santa Barbara and elsewhere that have banned blowers. On the other hand, documention shows that blowers create air pollution and cause asthma attacks, which can ruin more than livelihoods.

A vote on the ban is likely to come before the Sebastopol and Sonoma councils sometime in the fall. Both cities also have three seats up for re-election on their councils on Nov. 2, so leaf blowers are likely to become an election issue. Sonoma’s leading advocate for a ban, Lisa Summers, is apparently considering a run for the council.

Members of Quiet Orinda (www.quietorinda.com), a Contra Costa County town, attended the Sonoma meeting. They hosted a June 26 summit that launched the No Blow Coalition. At that meeting, physician Michael Kron likened workers who use leaf blowers to coal miners whose lungs are damaged by their hazardous work and who need protection.

Does researching health studies and facts and educating the public and lawmakers seem “extreme,” as Santa Rosa’s daily tries to paint the increasing number of leaf-blower opponents?

The logic (or lack of it) used by the daily resembles the faulty thinking employed to fight laws to restrict cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke. Such fallacious arguments were used to oppose laws requiring seat belts and other protective regulations against deadly practices.

Once the public is educated about leaf blowers’ multiple offenses, the widespread banning of the machine is likely. Better that it happen sooner here in Sonoma County, rather than later, after our common air has been more spoiled and people are further injured by that contamination.

Shepherd Bliss has owned an organic farm in Sebastopol since l992 and currently also teaches at Sonoma State University. He can be reached at [email protected]

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