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Sebastopol defends its leaf-blower ban


The hot-button issue of outlawing leaf blowers drew few people to a meeting this week of the Sebastopol City Council, possibly because "ban" was not part of the public agenda description.

"I think just having the word &‘leaf blower' itself would catch people's eye," said Mayor Guy Wilson. "In an earlier version of the agenda, the word &‘ban' was there, but we weren't coming into the meeting that a ban would be the outcome."

Wilson said he had "ban" removed from an early draft of the council agenda because it is covered under the heading of regulation, though he insisted it wasn't meant to be misleading.

"It is a semantic argument, but if we had said we would be doing a ban, that may have excited people more and brought people to the hearing, but that was not the goal," Wilson said.

Wilson, however, was one of the strongest proponents of a ban and made the motion that instructs the city staff to draft an ordinance and bring it back.

Councilman Patrick Slayter said he also suggested the word ban be stricken from the public agenda, but that was because he never thought it was part of the consideration and he was surprised it came up at all.

"That was not part of the agenda item," said Slayter, who opposes a ban.

Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer also said she was surprised to see the council agenda's wording change.

"I don't want to say anyone was trying to mislead anyone, but I was surprised when the discussion started, that whatever you want to call it, it was a ban and that was the major part of the discussion," Shaffer said. "I wish more people had been aware of it .<TH>.<TH>. I think they will now."

The ban on leaf blowers, phased in over a year's time, was approved, 3-2, with Wilson, Vice Mayor Mike Kyes and Councilwoman Sarah Gurney supporting it and council members Shaffer and Slayter opposing.

It would make Sebastopol the first city in Sonoma County and one of a few California cities with such bans in place.

The vote came after a presentation by Sebastopol Peaceful Air Effort, a small group of residents who contend that leaf-blower noise causes stress, the gas engines spew pollutants and the airborne particles cause respiratory problems.

"It's deafening and disruptive," said Jonathan Greenberg, a member of the group. "It strikes us as unnecessary. There is a role for government .<TH>.<TH>. people don't have the right to pollute."

Owen Masseytodd of Sebastopol, who was at the Sebastopol Hardware Center on Wednesday, said he will continue using his electric leaf blower "until the cops show up. I'll be actively resistant."

"It's a testament to the community's intolerance," Masseytodd said. "Instead of dealing with your neighbor, you go to the City Council instead."

Darryl Orr, co-owner of Pacific Landscapes in Sebastopol, said Wednesday the ban will increase costs of providing services in the town but Sebastopol is a small market for commercial landscape services.

"I thought they were going to go with time constraints rather than an outright ban, but Sebastopol is Sebastopol, it is a special place out here," Orr said.

He opposes a ban, but said he won't attend the meeting when the ordinance is introduced.

"It all goes back to being courteous about what you do," Orr said. "I live in Forestville and there is a market that has an old blower that is twice as noisy as it has to be .<TH>.<TH>. there are quieter machines .<TH>.<TH>. you can operate it and not have problems."

The city staff was directed to draft an ordinance banning all use of leaf blowers, both gas-engine and electric, within the city limits, with exceptions for city workers in situations that may be unavoidable, such as cleaning out a blocked storm drain, said City Manager Jack Griffin.

Griffin expects to have it ready in April or May for council action.

Shaffer expects more people at the next meeting.

"I believe people are not paying attention. I think it was off the radar," said Shaffer, referring to the sparse crowd Tuesday.

"The word will get out very quickly. If they do have something to say, I think we will hear from them and when it comes back to the council for a vote, I expect them to be there."