Proposed city ban on power tool could evolve into compromise; crowd expected at Tuesday meeting

There is nothing quite like a leaf blower to create a swirling controversy in Sebastopol.

After an earlier decision to ban the noisy, but labor-saving, machines, the Sebastopol City Council may be seeking middle ground at its Tuesday meeting, which is expected to be packed with residents on both sides of the issue.

"I am expecting a pretty good turnout. There has been a lot of attention to the issue," Mayor Guy Wilson said.

To ban or not to ban has been an issue in Sebastopol for the past two years. On March 1, in what critics say was a surprise decision, the council voted 3-2 to ask staff to draw up an ordinance prohibiting leaf blowers for all but emergency uses.

The decision was reached after a presentation by Sebastopol Peaceful Air Effort, a group that claimed the machines were noisy, polluting and contributed to respiratory problems.

That action sparked the formation of Sebastopol Citizens, which got 200 petition signatures opposing a ban as unnecessary and had members speak during subsequent City Council meetings.

Dan Swedenborg, one of the group's founders, said if there are restrictions, they should be reasonable, such as tying them to a noise ordinance, but not enacting an entire ban.

Jonathan Greenberg of Sebastopol Peaceful Air Effort said its members are willing to allow some personal use of leaf blowers, subject to neighbors' complaints, but still want severe restrictions for city workers and what would amount to a virtual ban for landscapers.

"We would eliminate 95 percent of leaf blowing in the city," Greenberg said.

Wilson said he expects the council on Tuesday to seek a compromise, perhaps by limiting times or days of use or specifying the use of newer, quieter equipment.

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