The Sonoma City Council on Wednesday night took a significant step toward making the city the first in Sonoma County, and one of the few in California, to ban gas-powered leaf blowers.
Council members voted 4 to 1 for city staff to prepare an ordinance outlawing the devices. The draft ordinance is expected to return to the council in about a month and could take effect later this year, assuming the council majority holds firm.
Sebastopol city leaders took an identical step in March 2011, but then backed away from a ban amid a public outcry over the decision. In Sonoma, however, a solid majority on the council appears ready to throw gas-powered blowers into the dustbin of history.
"The time has come to prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the city of Sonoma," Councilman Steve Barbose said.
Barbose was on the council in 2011 when city leaders unanimously approved new restrictions on the use of leaf blowers, including a prohibition on Sundays and during all city-observed holidays. The maximum noise level also was reduced from 90 decibels to 70.
A vocal group of residents has lobbied the current council for weeks to reconsider a ban, arguing that the regulations enacted two years ago did not go far enough. Twenty people spoke during Wednesday night's public hearing, nearly all of them in support of the prohibition.
Sonoma filmmaker Lawrence Behrs told council members he is sometimes forced to retreat to an in-law unit on his property to escape the sound of leaf blowers.
"One thing I didn't contemplate as a quality-of-life issue in Sonoma is being under siege by these unbelievably loud and polluting machines," he said.
Charlene Hunter, who lives on East Napa Street, said leaf blowers don't clean anything, "they just redistribute dirt."
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 councilman Tom Rouse was the lone dissenter Wednesday night, saying he is not a fan of bans in general. He advocated for more public input on the issue, including possibly putting it to voters in an upcoming election.
Rouse also predicted that a ban would result in him having to pay his gardener more for landscaping services at his home.
In 2011 when the issue was debated in Sonoma, the city's Community Services and Environment Commission advocated against a ban on leaf blowers, in part out of concern it would be difficult to enforce and result in "undue economic hardship on small landscape contractors."
The city's Public Works Department also has outlined concerns about a ban possibly increasing the amount of time it takes workers to clear away debris. It would cost the city an estimated $10,000 to convert to electric blowers.
The council's actions on Wednesday included directing staff to return with more options for further restricting the use of electric-powered blowers. The city's current rules restrict the use of leaf blowers in residential areas to between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and in city parks on the same days between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.