Sonoma edges closer to ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

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.

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