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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Ban the noise in Palo Alto?

Uploaded: Feb 11, 2023
Last week, an array of residents deplored the noise emitted from gas leaf blowers, claiming they are destroying “the quality of life” in our fair city.

One resident called the noise “obnoxious,” a woman said the “terrible noise” stresses her daily, another resident said the noise “degrades life in Palo Alto, a man complained that if he opens his condo window, he can hear those noisy blowers two blocks away. In other words, noise is bad and we must ban it.

Wow! Strong words about a mere gas leaf blower’s decibel level. Does that noise really affect your life so much? Or are you simply noise-intolerant?

I agree that when gardeners come and use powered equipment, it is noisy. Yet they do the “mow, blow and go” work quickly, and help keep our community looking neat and clean.

Five of the council members seemed to agree with those complaints from speakers at the meeting -- I thought the issue was exaggerated. As their council discussion ensued, there was talk or also banning electric leaf blowers. And powered hedge trimmers, And power saws.

Some residents said we should get out our garden rakes and use only them. One sensible council member said raking is hard work, and difficult for the elderly, but that comment didn’t seem to register. Many said the fallen leaves should stay where they land; they help the soil. A few residents scoffed at the idea of manicured lawns in our community, as that was just what elitists do.

It all seemed to me that we have a new enemy in town – noise! And the city was determined to alleviate it. On my scale of importance, leaf blower noise is a very minor concern – we have many more Important Issues to decide.

The council focused on what to do to allay residents’ concerns There was little mention about the ramification of an enforced ban and resultant penalties would have on the gardeners themselves. Electric gas blowers and battery-operated ones that need frequent battery replacements are considerably higher (a couple of hundred dollars for some models) than the gas ones.

Gardeners don’t make gobs of money. Their income is a result of how fast they work and how many homes they can do in a day.

Many gardeners in town (like mine) are independent – they buy their own equipment. My gardener uses his family to help with the work—he sometimes brings along his cousin, or his nephew, uncle or brother, and each has his own gas blower.

The council agreed that electrics are costlier, however, the city would impose steeper fines on homeowners who hire gardeners using gas blowers ($250, $500, or $1.000 fine for first-, second- and third-time offenses). Is that the solution to gas leaf blower noise?

What about the additional cost to gardeners and their possible loss of income? There was a suggestion that those of us who hire gardeners just pay them more – like $30 per visit. That will help gardeners, but could hurt lower-incomers in town who use gardening services, particularly if they are older. That idea did not get incorporated into the council vote.

This same kind of noise complaint arose a couple of years ago when residents demanded the paths of airplanes flying to San Jose or San Francisco airports should be changed so these planes, carrying thousands of people coming and going to the Bay Area, not fly over our back yards -- because the plane noise affects the quality of life here.

As the council discussion continued, several other problems came to view. The city uses gas leaf blowers because the areas they tackle (parks, playgrounds, parking lots) are very large and electric leaf blowers would take significantly longer (and increase labor costs), so the transition would not be easy one. I suspect the city will continue to use the gas blowers, which, to me, makes sense. How long would it take to rake Rinconada Park?

I think we are being a bit obsessive about leaf blower noise. Living in a community means we encounter noise daily– leaf blowers, revved-up teen autos, Caltrain horns, barking dogs, garbage trucks, police and fire sirens, motorcycles, etc. Noise is a part of life, and we just have to live with it.

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Posted by Anne, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 2:05 pm

Anne is a registered user.

Strongly disagree with pretty much everything you say here. Scientific studies show excess noise has deleterious on one's health.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 2:13 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I strongly agree with Diana. This has nothing to do with noise. It's just another excuse to complain. If you ban everything noisy, you'll need to ban cars, trucks, motorcycles, kids, parties, bars, etc. Noise is part of life. Get over it. Or at least close your window.

Posted by Julian Guiterez, a resident of another community,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 2:26 pm

Julian Guiterez is a registered user.

As a professional gardner, we wear face masks to protect ourselves against dust, dirt, and allergens and wear earplugs to prevent potential hearing loss.

Residents can easily do the same.

Yes, gas leaf blowers are noisy but how many Palo Alto residents who hire gardners would be willing to pay DOUBLE the monthly costs to compensate for manual raking and sweeping?

And then some grumps would complain about the scaping sounds metal rakes make.

Do Palo Alto residents also complain about jackhammers or riders on Harley Davidsons with shotgun (no muffler) tailpipes?

For those who contend that fallen leaves replenish the soil, that may be true but they suffocate lawns eventually turning them brown.

Thank you for seeing the big picture Diana & Jennifer...the complainers cannot see the forest through the trees.

Posted by Victor+Bishop, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 3:48 pm

Victor+Bishop is a registered user.

If we are tackling noise issues we need to ban any and all events in Palo Alto that have music. And what about Caltrain - those trains make plenty of noise. I have a solution that will kill two birds with one stone. Caltrain will stop at the Palo,alto borders. Riders will then use bicycles to traverse Palo,alto and then board a new Caltrain to continue their journey. And it will also solved the issues of what to do with the train crossings at meadow and Charleston - nothing as there will no longer be train service through Palo Alto.

Posted by Jim Lockwood, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 3:54 pm

Jim Lockwood is a registered user.

For the uninitiated, gas-powered leaf blowers were originally designed as portable sprayers for fruit trees. The airflow was used to dispurse pesticides like DDT and Malathion.

During the early 1960s, many Japanese gardners discovered that by turning off the sprayer unit, the blower by itself could be used in lieu of a conventional rake or water nozzle to clear debris and sidewalks.

This practice has now been adopted by countless Mexican gardners and it is a standard practice.

I still use a vintage gas-powered leaf blower at home to spray my apple trees with Malathion which superceded DDT as an effective & relatively safe pesticide.

No big deal as I now wear a respirator when spraying. Back in the day, nobody wore facemasks or respirators operating a leaf blower/sprayer and it didn't seem to impact their health over the long term.

This year I am going to spray my walnut and almond trees to keep the squirrels and birds off of them.

Posted by Mark J., a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 4:10 pm

Mark J. is a registered user.

Gas blowers are more polluting, and they're banned in Palo Alto. Maintenance workers are supposed to use electric blowers instead.

The most ridiculous leaf blower incident I had involved my neighbor calling in blowers during an active rainstorm. Just let the wind blow things lol

Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 4:13 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

The noise from blowers doesn't really bother me. None last very long. If out walking, most turn off as I pass for which I always thank them.

Sitting in my house on any weekday, I can hear construction noise from many of the sites in various directions around me. Backing up deliveries are the worst, and when roads are being repaved the back up beeps can go on for a long time starting early in the day. On garbage pick up day, I don't need to set an alarm as I can hear the back up and clanking of recyclables being picked up before dawn in neighboring street and my own sometime later. When the tree trimmers, often utility workers, are cutting along the power lines once again there is lots of noise from the chain saws and additionally from the chipper and both create lots of dust.

If we are going to ban something because of the noise, can we also ban the beeping back up noise and replace them with the more pleasant animal noises that some of the more modern Amazon trucks use? Can we make sure that construction noise doesn't start until at least 8 am, and the same for garbage collection?
Noise can be a problem, but gas blowers are not the biggest noise maker around town.

Posted by Marie, a resident of South of Midtown,
on Feb 11, 2023 at 10:18 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Gas blowers bother me a lot. I have allergies and asthma, which are made worse by gas blowers. I tolerate the noise of Alma Street and the train just fine. The noise of a gas blower is much worse. Even my Bose noise cancelling headphones can't completely block gas blower noise. And then there is the amount of pollution caused by gas blowers which have no catalytic converters.

Please enforce the existing ordinance. It was passed for a reason.

I support electric blowers. They are much quieter with no exhaust. I would also support a city subsidy to help gardeners buy more batteries. I also support eliminating the use of gas blowers on city and commercial property. The city could provide extra battery packs for the gardeners to use. So could businesses. It is a one-time minor expense for the city and businesses.

I pay my gardener more to ensure he doesn't use a gas blower, and don't regret it.

Posted by Sylvia Jenkins, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 12, 2023 at 10:18 am

Sylvia Jenkins is a registered user.

Another option/consideration would be for the gardners to use gas-powered (or electric) outdoor vacuums specifically designed to pick-up the debris rather than simply blowing it onto the curb or into someone else's front yard.

Posted by Fred Jackson, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 12, 2023 at 1:40 pm

Fred Jackson is a registered user.

I am more concerned about those Chinese 'weather balloons' than I am about fas-powered leaf blowers.

Posted by Fred Jackson, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 12, 2023 at 1:40 pm

Fred Jackson is a registered user.

[fas] > GAS

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 13, 2023 at 9:30 am

Neal is a registered user.

I agree with Anne. Too much noise can be harmful. Some people are more noise sensitive than others. I find it sad that so many commenters casually dismiss the concern of people who are noise sensitive. Just because leaf blower noise doesn't bother you, it doesn't mean others aren't adversely affected by it. Have a little empathy. BTW the gardener that frequents my neighborhood uses a corded leaf blower that's louder than most gas leaf blowers.

Posted by Eeyore, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 13, 2023 at 10:20 am

Eeyore is a registered user.

Monday morning and and the gas powered landscaping equipment has powered up across the street. Tuesday it is the neighbors to the right of us. Thursday it is the neighbors to the left of us. There isn't one weekday in which someone isn't leaf blowing somewhere on our short block. And they just don't BLOW, they rev their equipment constantly so you can't even get used to some background hum. Oh yeah, Saturday the parking lot of the EMPTY commercial building behind our house gets the power treatment.

Two stroke motors are some of the worst polluting devices ever developed. The gardeners working without hearing protection or even a mask are the ones suffering the brunt of our privileged desire to hire out our dirty work to those less fortunate.

Gas powered landscaping equipment has been a fail since it was invented. If you must employ yard help, step up and buy electric. Don't be an accessory to pollution and the real physical harms that come from inhaling partially burned hydrocarbons all day.

Posted by Eeyore, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 13, 2023 at 10:22 am

Eeyore is a registered user.

Oh, and at least Ramos park is serviced by City contractors who use backpack mounted electric blowers.

Posted by Penny Whitmire, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 13, 2023 at 11:55 am

Penny Whitmire is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Bob+Ohlmann, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 13, 2023 at 9:26 pm

Bob+Ohlmann is a registered user.

I feel empathy for those who are noise sensitive and are hurting caused by the noise of gas leaf blowers. However, many responders have mentioned more noisy sources than leaf blowers. Are these sensitive people also taking their concerns to the City Council about those sources? Personally, my gardener uses a relatively quiet gas leaf blower (I hardly hear it if my doors are closed), and it is on for about 15 minutes every two weeks. I hope that the rare amount of noise that it makes does not significantly bother the noise sensitive, as I would hate to have to tell him to buy an electric leaf blower with a rechargeable battery, as I do not want to have to pay for it, and neither should he. If the city would provide one to him I'm sure he would use it.

Posted by Janet Lynwood, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Feb 14, 2023 at 9:04 am

Janet Lynwood is a registered user.

Some gardners offer 'organic' landscaping services that do not involve the use of any powered equipment.

They use rakes and brooms, a manual push-style lawnmower, hand-operated hedge clippers and outdoor water for rinsing off walkways and sidewalks.

Except for the scraping sound of the metal rakes, their work is very quiet and non-pollutant.

The only problem/issue is that they charge more for these services as it takes close to an hour for them to complete their work on an averaged sized residential property with lawn, shrubbery, and miscellaneous debris to dispose of.

We pay $250.00+ per visit for this service depending on additional tasks.

Are most Palo Altans who employ professional landscapers willing to pay $1000.00+ per month for a non-pollutant and relatively noise-free gardening experience?

"I don't think so Tim" but fortunately we can easily afford to.

For with the noise.

Posted by Matt B, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 14, 2023 at 10:29 am

Matt B is a registered user.

- I have lived in quite a few places around the world and I have never seen such an obsessive need to blow leaves, every week, religiously.

- Gas blowers have 2-stroke engines. They are super polluting, especially for the blowers. It does not seem to bother many residents that the poor gardeners breath dirty exhaust gas pretty much from the firehose.

- Financial burden of using electric blowers should not be on gardeners. Owners of often multi-million $ homes who can afford to pay someone to blow leaves every week can probably afford to pay for the electric blower. Seems obvious.

- A 5-minute let blowing session is not the problem. The problem is that it s'5 minute repeated every day times again, 9 to 5, including Saturdays.

Posted by Chip, a resident of JLS Middle School,
on Feb 14, 2023 at 10:35 am

Chip is a registered user.

Some gas blowers are much louder than others & emit more foul-smelling exhaust. Besides cost, the trouble with electrics is the eventual problem of battery disposal. Corded electrics? Risky & I doubt professional gardeners will use them. My hate the smell of the gas blowers & try to be away from home when they are at my neighbors' yards. Another beef? Gardeners who spill gas on the streets when filling their equipment. It erodes the asphalt & makes thee beginning of a pothole.
As an aside, disposal of used solar panels is another enviro problem (like batteries) which waits at the end of the tunnel.

Posted by Elena Madieros, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 14, 2023 at 11:49 am

Elena Madieros is a registered user.

Can these electric leaf blowers be powered by the solar panels that some residents have installed on their roofs?

Or by the AC battery storage units?

Unlike many upscale-yuppie parents who spoil their useless, good for nothing children, our teenaged son handles all of the landscaping requirements at our home and he is paid the same fees that a professional gardner would charge for the identical services.

He's been assuming this job responsibility since he was 9 years old and now has enough money stashed aside to buy a late model BMW on his own because we pay good. Other well to do parents could consider the same (unless they are intent on raising whiney Gen Z brats).

BTW...he uses the 'armstrong method' which involves no power equipment, electric or gas.

Posted by Ms+Walker, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 14, 2023 at 2:37 pm

Ms+Walker is a registered user.

In 2021 the CA legislature passed a law (authored by Mark Berman) that in 2024 bans the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers, in response to the well-documented pollution caused by them. The California Air Resources Agency long ago determined that the harmful pollution effects of gas-powered landscaping equipment exceeded that of cars. Unfortunately, the law does not ban the use of existing gas-powered leaf blowers, so we (and the gardeners) will have to suffer the health effects of the pollution and noise for years to come unless Palo Alto enforces its ban and until Menlo Park ever gets around to passing a ban.

Posted by Leona Patterson, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 16, 2023 at 8:43 am

Leona Patterson is a registered user.

"I wonder by how much is life expectancy is shortened when using 2-stroke gas-powered tools like blowers Mon-Fri, 9 to 5pm, even with a mask."

@Matt B: the landscape maintenance crews at Alta Mesa Cemetery use gas-powered lawnmowers & leaf blowers and the residents seem to suffer no adverse effects.

Posted by Naranja Mann, a resident of another community,
on Feb 16, 2023 at 3:44 pm

Naranja Mann is a registered user.

Leaf blowers are also handy for removing debris (leaves & twigs) from the roofs of houses.

A gas powered-leaf blower is best for this kind of job because it fits ergonomically on the back of the individual & provides easier mobility than an electric model, especially one with a long cord.

Battery consumption is also increased when using a leaf blower to clear roofs and gutters rendering the device relatively useless as the power supply dwindles.

And for those who suggest having another costly battery pack handy, easier said than done.

An oil+gasoline 2-stroke leaf blower is the professional's choice. Thousands of gardening professionals cannot be wrong and some larger landscaping crews will often have two or more leaf blowers in operation at the same time.

Posted by Julian Terrasco, a resident of North Whisman,
on Feb 16, 2023 at 4:18 pm

Julian Terrasco is a registered user.

A good gas-powered leaf blower is more efficient and far more powerful than a typical electric model.

My German-made Schroeder 9900 is capable of generating 230 mph of wind power and is worth every cent of the $700.00 that I paid for it.

Speaking as a professional landscape technician, only the EPA or a municipal ordinance will keep me from firing-up this baby.

Posted by Ming Zhao, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Feb 17, 2023 at 9:16 am

Ming Zhao is a registered user.

All leaf blowers are noisy and not good for the environment but time is money and the gardners do not have all day to complete their tasks.

On the days that the gardners are scheduled, we simply leave our home and run errands Problem solved.

Posted by Judy Fleishman, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove,
on Feb 17, 2023 at 12:40 pm

Judy Fleishman is a registered user.

I have learned to live with the sound of blaring leaf blowers and the swarms of dirt, pollen, and leaf debris they scatter.

Others might consider doing the same.

Berman's 2024 ban on the sale of gas-piweted leaf blowers will have minimal impact because the usage is grandfathered in and these devices can be easily rebuilt and refurbished by any qualified landscape equipment repair person.

Posted by Lorraine Bergman, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Feb 17, 2023 at 2:49 pm

Lorraine Bergman is a registered user.

Leaf blowers sound horrid but there is nothing more irritating than the sound of a chain saw and there is not enough torque in an electric motor to exceed the capabilities of a gas-powered chain saw.

Posted by Ryan Beckham, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 18, 2023 at 7:51 am

Ryan Beckham is a registered user.

Another option might involve neighbors getting together and having all of their shrubs, lawns, and trees removed so that there is no need for landscaping services and power tools.

Installing Astro-turf and rock gardens with cacti and/or succulents would also cut down on outdoor water usage.

Posted by Carrie Lange, a resident of Atherton,
on Feb 18, 2023 at 8:38 am

Carrie Lange is a registered user.

Speaking of options and alternatives, another way to go would be to have sand in lieu of any landscaping.

The only problem is that feral cats would most likely use the area as an outdoor litter box and this would require regular maintenance to extract the cat poop buried below the surface.

Posted by Sanjay Singh, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 18, 2023 at 1:48 pm

Sanjay Singh is a registered user.

We do not have a leaf-blower problem in India because there is minimal concern among residents towards keeping one's outdoor landscaping well-kept and pristine.

It is a very natural environment where most forms of flora and fauna are allowed to co-exist with the human population.

Posted by Bethany Taylor, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 19, 2023 at 8:25 am

Bethany Taylor is a registered user.

If the noise emanating from gas leaf blowers is such an issue, couldn't people simply wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones?

Posted by Raoul Marquez, a resident of Mountain View,
on Feb 19, 2023 at 11:38 am

Raoul Marquez is a registered user.

"It is a very natural environment where most forms of flora and fauna are allowed to co-exist with the human population."

^ Like 6 million stray cows roaming the countryside and clogging up urban traffic or a temple where they pay homage to rats?

I'll take the sound of leaf blowers any day rather than visiting or living in a place like India.

Posted by Raja Lodhi, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Mar 24, 2023 at 10:56 pm

Raja Lodhi is a registered user.

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Posted by Raja Lodhi, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Mar 24, 2023 at 10:56 pm

Raja Lodhi is a registered user.

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