With help from a citizens group, Sonoma CALM (formerly known as SNALB), the city of Sonoma, California voted to ban gas leaf blower use, following closely on a similar vote by its school district. Congratulations Sonoma!
The city is finally going quiet after five years of wrangling. Last week, the City Council voted 3-2 to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, allowing the use of electric leaf blowers Monday through Saturday, 9 am-4 pm. It is the first city in the county to enact such a ban. Previously, Sonoma restricted blower noise to 70 decibels at 50 feet, and had some restrictions on hours. However, citizens complained the restrictions were unenforceable, and made the case that gas-powered blowers presented a health and quality of life issue.
The decision by the City Council follows an earlier vote by the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. With the support of Superintendent Louann Carlomagno and Maintenance and Operations Officer Tony Albini, the school district voted last November to ban gas-powered leaf blowers and only allow electric blowers when absolutely necessary, and never when students are in school or within half an hour of their arrival. The rationale for the ban was the protection of student health. Quiet Communities’ evidence package on adverse health effects from leaf blower noise and pollution, which included testimony from pediatricians, helped to catalyze the school’s decision.
The success in Sonoma is an example of how a small, dedicated group can succeed with scientific evidence and persistence. Early efforts of individuals like Darryl Ponicsan and later, the citizens group Sonoma CALM (formerly Sonoma Neighbors Against Leaf Blowers [SNALB]), brought to light the serious health effects related to toxic, carcinogenic exhaust and particulates, and noise – affecting children, workers, and other members of the public. SNALB initially requested a ban on all blowers – gas and electric – noting correctly that both produce ground-based particulate matter. The compromise that was ultimately reached, while not perfect, will eliminate the toxic, carcinogenic exhaust produced by gas-blowers and substantially reduce noise.
The example set by Sonoma should be followed by other communities across the country experiencing toxic pollution and loud leaf blower noise around their homes, schools, and other public spaces. Advances in electric technology combined with other sustainable landscaping methods make it possible to restore quiet, clean, and healthy environments. Local officials have an obligation to keep our communities safe and healthy. In doing so, they will also be helping to create green, sustainable jobs for American workers.