Leaf Blower Bans Expand in Cittaslow USA Towns

By Shepherd Bliss The small Cittaslow town of Sonoma became the first city in Sonoma County to directly restrict leaf blower use on Jan. 5, joining over two-dozen California cities that have at least partial bans. Nearby Sebastopol - also a Cittaslow town - each with under 10,000 residents-- had earlier indirectly limited their use by a new noise ordinance that went into effect in September.
Sebastopol's existing rules forbid any noise above 55 decibels, by leaf blowers and other sources. The official rating of the average new blower is 69 decibels, with the older ones being much louder. Any resident hearing such loud noises can call the police and report them.Sonoma's new rules, passed by the City Council, limit the hours blowers can be used and forbid their use on Sundays and all city-observed holidays, as well as Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and the day after Thanksgiving. This provides some serenity to the growing number of residents complaining about the blowers and their negative health impacts. They also outlaw the common practice of blowing debris into the streets and onto neighbors' properties and forbid noise over 70 decibels.A debris blower ban was officially brought before the Sebastopol City Council in 2009 by then Vice-Mayor Guy Wilson, at the request of various residents. Wilson is now mayor and will bring the issue before the Council again March 1. "The Sonoma ordinance is a reference for Sebastopol," Mayor Wilson said in a telephone interview.Some activists in Sonoma are concerned that the new rules are not strong enough. "It's certainly a step in the right direction, but many of us would still like a total ban. When Councilwoman Joanne Sanders called leaf blowers 'weapons,' she hit the nail on the head," Lisa Summers commented. "They're carried around and they're pointed and they're used to exert force to blow things in directions all over the place," Sanders noted.Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian added, "This issue will be ongoing with educational materials, notice and outreach to commercial and residential stakeholders."Santa Monica, for example, restricted the blowers long ago. Last year they strengthened their ban. Carmel was the first to ban the blowers in l975. Los Angeles banned them in l998 and various Marin County towns have banned them. Over the years the evidence has mounted about how toxic they are to people's health, especially children, elders, and those with respiratory diseases like asthma.The growing No Blow Movement had a state-wide gathering hosted in Contra Costa County last year by Quiet Orinda. I joined participants there from around the state to hear testimony from scientists, physicians, government officials, and activists on the multiple negative health effects of blowers."The particulate matter that blowers throw up is really bad stuff," according to Dr. David Lighthall, a health-science advisor to a Central Valley air-quality agency.Various reporters present at that meeting wrote about it, including "The New Yorker's" Tad Friend's Oct. 25 article called "Blowback" and featured on the cover. He quotes people as describing the machine as "the Devil's instrument" that ruins "pastoral glories" and "semi-rural character."Friend reports that Orinda co-host Peter Kendall "can pin-point a blower a thousand feet away." His wife Susan Kendall described how "My blood pressure is up just listening."The blowers originated in the 1960s in Japan to disperse pesticides into fields and fruit trees. They continue to scatter pesticides, as well as mold, debris, soot, fecal material, and other hazardous elements. Only they are now used in residential and commercial scenes.We may be at the start of a campaign similar to that seeking to limit second-hand cigarette smoke. Any benefit blowers may provide are far outweighed by their many costs.Videos on the harmful impacts of leaf blower can be seen at http://www.tv1.com/vlogs/167/posts/246.Shepherd Bliss teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California, has operated a farm in the Sebastopol countryside sincel992, and can be reached at sb3@pon.net.
For more information on Cittaslow USA, go to http://www.cittaslowusa.org Virginia Hubbell, Director info@cittaslowusa.org 707-938-2939