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Protesters deliver signatures seeking overturn of Sonoma’s leaf blower-ban

As publicity stunts go, leading a miniature horse into Sonoma City Hall on Thursday to deliver petitions from residents opposed to the city’s pending ban on gas leaf blowers seemed innocent enough.

Organizer Jerry Marino didn’t count on the police showing up, however. An officer’s traffic stop of his Volkswagen sedan put a brief hitch in the noontime protest, which showcased, once again, Sonoma’s long-running dispute over the gardening machines, considered necessary implements by some and a noisy nuisance by others.

This was not Marino’s first political rodeo. The 76-year-old car salesman once staged a “roost-in” at the city’s plaza to protest efforts to ban chickens from the famed spot. CNN, among other outlets, showed up and gave the controversy national attention.

His latest beef is with three council members, including Mayor Laurie Gallian, who voted last month to adopt a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers within city limits. Marino owns two of the offending machines, though he admits he doesn’t know how to operate them.

Nevertheless, Marino feels the citizenry has been betrayed by the council majority, which earlier signaled its intention to put the issue before voters before changing course and voting for the ban.

Marino and his allies planned Thursday to stage a “dog and pony” show to draw attention to the delivery of more than 1,200 signatures from those opposed to the ban to City Hall. They need 639 qualifying signatures - or 10 percent of the city’s registered voters - to force the City Council to reconsider the ban or put the issue on the ballot, presumably in November.

The procession to City Hall began outside James Cannard’s Third Street East house, where the 59-year-old urban farmer loaded up two wine bags with the petitions and attached them to Peanut Butter, his 14-year-old miniature horse. Cannard wore cowboy boots and a hat and carried a buck knife in his belt.

Retired PG&E manager John Fanucchi, 73, rounded out the posse, bringing along his aging golden retriever, Amanda. At the last minute, Fanucchi decided to keep her in the car with him.

Cannard took off walking with Peanut Butter down Napa Road, the horse trotting along at a brisk pace into the heart of Sonoma’s genteel downtown. Marino, driving his brand-new Volkswagen Passat, led the way, activating the car’s alarm to draw attention to the impromptu parade.

At City Hall, Cannard pulled up on Peanut Butter’s lead rope. Marino, who had stopped to put one of his leaf blowers on top of the car, arrived and parked, the horn still blaring. That’s when the law arrived.

A Sonoma police officer pulled up behind Marino’s car with his lights and siren activated. He asked for Marino’s driver’s license and ordered the protest ringleader to stay in his car.

“Unbelievable,” Marino said, as the officer called in to dispatch and a crowd gathered to watch.

The officer walked back to the car after several minutes and bent down to speak with Marino. The officer told Marino he was “totally OK” with what he was up to, but that he shouldn’t be laying on the horn unless in an emergency. The officer also referenced concerns for Marino’s safety.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t stop you,” the officer said.

The incident behind him, Marino exited the car to help Cannard escort Peanut Butter through the front door of City Hall to deliver the petitions to City Clerk Gay Johann.

“This is a first,” the veteran city official said.

Johann accepted the petitions, which she planned to deliver later in the day to the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters.

The ban, which is scheduled to take effect July 1, would be suspended if it’s confirmed opponents have gathered enough signatures to force the City Council to reconsider or until after voters weigh in on the issue.

“We just wish that the three council members that voted for the ban would just use common sense on matters when they vote,” Marino said.

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