Two years after it declined to outlaw leaf blowers, the majority of the Sonoma City Council expressed support Monday for a total ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and partial ban on electric blowers.
Council members Laurie Gallian, Rachel Hundley and Madolyn Agrimonti indicated support for a proposal to completely ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in town. They also supported prohibiting electric leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods. However, the trio was not ready to ban their use on commercial properties and in city parks, asking city employees to come back with more information at a future meeting.
“I look at this as a call and cry from the public,” said Gallian, who asked fellow council members earlier this year to revisit the issue after residents concerned with the noise, allergens and potentially harmful particles continued to push for the ban after an attempt failed in 2013.
Mayor David Cook and Councilman Edwards opposed the bans.
Edwards called the proposal unnecessary. He said the issue should be addressed by talking about it with neighbors and “teaching” them to be more mindful of the current restrictions, which limit the times that leaf blowers can be used.
“I’m very respectful of my neighbors. If my neighbor says ‘I have an issue,’ I deal with it right away,” Edwards said to a room packed with landscapers still in their work clothes and residents who urged the city to approve a complete ban.
However, leaf blower opponents contended that restrictions on days and times cannot be enforced, while landscapers argued it wasn’t fair to punish those who followed the rules.
Conny Gustafsson, owner of Scandia Landscaping, urged the city to enforce the current time and day restrictions.
“None of us like blowers, especially carrying them on the back, but they’re good help,” he said.
It’s not just about the noise, added resident Georgia Kelly, who runs a nonprofit from her home. She said it’s about the health concerns.
“(It’s) primarily about dust, pollen, insecticide and animal droppings that are blown into the air and into our lungs,” she said during a break.
It’s not the first time the council got into a dust-up over gas-powered leaf blowers. They caused a stir five years ago, pitting landscapers and home gardeners against leaf blower opponents who complained about the noise, dust and pollution the devices emit. Landscapers argued, however, the devices were necessary to do their jobs.
After contentious debate, the council members ultimately tightened restrictions on leaf blowers rather than impose a ban. They outlawed the use of leaf blowers on Sundays and during city-observed holidays. They also reduced the maximum noise level from 90 decibels to 70.
But residents complained landscapers weren’t always following the rules.
The debate resurfaced in 2013. Led by screenwriter and author Darryl Ponicsan, opponents organized a petition hoping to get the town of 11,000 residents to join more than two-dozen cities around the state to ban gas-powered leaf blowers. It would have been the first in Sonoma County to do so.
They got the support of three of the five city council members: Gallian, Steve Barbose and then-Mayor Ken Brown. When the ordinance came up for its second and final vote, Brown changed his mind.