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Sonoma mayor changes vote, kills leaf blower ban

Gas-powered leaf blowers got a last-minute reprieve in Sonoma after the city's mayor reversed himself by casting the deciding vote against a ban on the noisy landscaping machines.

“I'm firm in my conviction that I did the right thing,” Mayor Ken Brown said Tuesday.

Critics, however, were fuming. On the Facebook page for NoBLOWnoma, it was noted that Brown is “a man of many faces. Or at least two.”

Sonoma was poised to become the first city in Sonoma County, and one of the few in the nation, to ban gas-powered leaf blowers.

The proposed ordinance was on the consent calendar of Monday night's City Council meeting for a final reading and adoption. Brown, however, pulled the item for discussion.

The move was a surprise given Brown's earlier support for a ban. He was part of a council majority that voted to draft the ordinance, which the mayor then supported at its first reading Oct. 7.

After taking public comment Monday night, including from several landscapers, Brown cast the crucial vote giving opponents of a ban the slim majority they needed to defeat the effort.

Council members Tom Rouse and David Cook also voted against the ban. Supporting it were council members Steve Barbose and Laurie Gallian.

Brown preceded his vote by describing how he “grew up in a real blue collar world” and that he remains a “paycheck to paycheck kind of guy,” according to a video of the proceedings provided by Sonoma Valley TV.

He said there were “elements of a class issue here tonight” and he also noted that he recently earned an award from Sonoma's Latino community.

Brown said he and other council members had received an email from a minister earlier that day asking them to put themselves in the shoes of stakeholders who would be affected by the ban.

“These are hard-working entrepreneurs, and so I put myself in their shoes. It was a revelation,” Brown said Tuesday.

The outcome represents a bitter defeat for ban advocates, in particular Sonoma screenwriter and author Darryl Ponicsan, who organized a petition drive and had attended council meetings for months urging the action.

Ponicsan did not return several calls Tuesday seeking comment.

As of 2011, about 20 California cities had bans on leaf-blowers in place, including Belvedere, Beverly Hills, Carmel, Del Mar, Malibu, Santa Monica, Mill Valley, Berkeley and Palo Alto. Other cities restrict hours of operation, or allow only electric or battery-powered blowers.

Sonoma restricts hours when leaf blowers can be used to from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday in residential areas, and in city parks on the same days between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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