It's been a long time coming, but the Portola Valley Town Council, when it meets Wednesday, Jan. 9, will consider banning gasoline-powered leaf blowers, along with the harmful practice of using electric blowers on soil surfaces.
The council's advisory panel on environmental matters, the Sustainability & Environmental Resources Committee, included a ban as one of several recommendations in revising town policy on the use of leaf blowers.
The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road. Also on the agenda, a study session on financing roadwork in town.
A flyer published by the town last September said that the two-stroke engines that power leaf blowers can generate, over one hour, greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to a car trip from Los Angeles to Denver; can produce noise of up to 112 decibels, equivalent to a car horn heard at 3 feet away; can distribute toxic compounds such as formaldehyde and hydrocarbons; and can propel dust particles at speeds comparable to hurricane-force winds.
The sustainability committee has been studying issues around the use of gasoline-powered blowers since September 2017. A staff report by Town Manager Jeremy Dennis notes a February 2018 council directive to come up with recommendations.
The policy recommendations, in addition to banning gasoline-powered devices, would restrict blowing to surfaces that are hard, such as concrete and asphalt. The committee also recommends several other steps:
• Explore the idea of a noise-level certification system for electricity-powered blowers.
• Provide residents with the opportunity to test the blowers at Town Center.
• Initiate a second round of educating the public on the benefits of using electricity-powered blowers.
The town-issued flyer, published in both English and Spanish, promoted electricity-powered blowers and asked residents for their ideas on incentives to persuade gardeners to switch. Feedback was "limited," Dennis said in his report.
He noted that if the council implements changes to town regulations, staff would prepare materials to update customers at local stores that sell landscaping equipment.
The sustainability committee also discussed a trade-in program to encourage a switch to electric from gasoline-powered leaf blowers, but needs council feedback on such a program, including identifying a source of funding, Dennis said.
Blankets of leaves
As to the use of blowers, whether electric or gasoline-powered, on soil surfaces, resident and landscape architect Danna Breen has repeatedly described to the council the deleterious surface-hardening effect brought about through the use of the blowers on soil. Breen said she plans to attend the Jan. 9 meeting.
Soil moisture is essential to keeping landscaping alive over dry months, she said in a 2015 Almanac interview. The key to moist soil is a blanket of detritus, particularly dead leaves, and the key to maintaining that blanket is keeping leaf blowers away from the area, she said.
That Portola Valley is just now coming to this consideration of a ban surprised her, Breen said recently.
When the council discussed the matter in September 2018, Planning Commissioner Craig Taylor expressed concern for gardeners losing the use of their tools and the importance of finding a reasonable way forward.
Among the suggestions to the council at the time: phasing in policy changes over a period of years, and establishing a certification program by which the town could inspect blowers and issue decals for those that meet the town's standards.