Tonight: Council to consider a ban on gasoline-powered leaf-blowers


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.


Sign up for Almanac Express to get news updates. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


16 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 9:52 am

Excellent. Good for you PV. Wish Menlo Park would do the same, but also a ban on electric blowers. The dust and toxic chemicals these contraptions but onto and into our homes and bodies is inexcusable. Not to mention the noise. BTW Many gardeners have no clue as to the harm it does to them and the environment.

Teach your kids to rake folks.

29 people like this
Posted by Not Quite Yet
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 9, 2019 at 10:31 am

I've tried the Stihl battery blowers and they are quite good, but not good enough for the big jobs here in Portola Valley. Couldn't move a big pile of oak tree leaves dry, forget the wet ones. The largest battery backpack only lasts about 90 minutes going full out, which means Landscape crews would need multiple charged backpacks to get through the day (they take several hours to charge).

For small jobs and for do it yourself folks they are great. A trade in program would really help get things started, a ban would certainly cause a ruckus and likely large increases in fees (remember affordable housing goals?). Also, my gardener has been using 4-stroke blowers for several years now, they are much quieter and certainly exude less emissions than the 2-stroke. I'm guessing a large percentage of crews are using 4-stroke now.

At our house we use shredded redwood bark for ground cover. IMO holds moisture much better than oak leaves and looks much better. Very easy to blow the oak leaves off without removing the "gorilla hair" as it mats down nicely. IMO oak leaves are very "dirty" and take forever to break down, and they look horrible as a mulch. That said, the majority of leave blowing here occurs on the driveway. We have 67 oak trees on our property and the leaves somehow always find their way onto the patio, deck and driveway! Also, IMO, any landscape crew worth what they get paid would never blow down to bare dirt...Hello?

My vote, get things started but not time for an outright ban. The tech is just not there yet. Oh, and if anyone's kids have time to rake, send them over....

11 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Jan 9, 2019 at 12:05 pm

"Soil moisture is essential to keeping landscaping alive over dry months, she said in a 2015 Almanac interview."

But if leaves drop in the fall, then the dry months have already passed. Also, from a fire hazard perspective, it seems unwise to leave a blanket of leaves on all soil year round.

I'm all for reducing/eliminating 2-stroke gas blowers, but it seems odd to outlaw use of electric blowers on soil as if this were equally harmful/unwanted. And according to the rationale offered, we should also outlaw raking leaves on soil.

3 people like this
Posted by Tricia
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 9, 2019 at 1:07 pm

Wish Atherton would ban gas blowers!!

11 people like this
Posted by Menlo Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 1:43 pm

I stepped on my front patio this morning and heard a gas blower going full blast. I couldn't see the gardener but the noise was deafening and extremely annoying (as it is every day of the week). Even worse, I could smell and taste the raw and consumed gas fumes even though the blower was some distance away from me. Portola Valley is documenting the negative impacts on us all in our neighborhoods from noise and air pollution (significant fumes, dust and particulates) and related environmental and plant damage. Each community has distinct characteristics requiring different approaches to solutions to this problem, as Not Quite Yet points out. Menlo Park is a moderately dense residential environment and the impacts of heavy duty (full power) blowing are in your face noticeable. Gas blowers should definitely be out of the picture -- quite harmful to children, pets and the rest of us. Some combination of electric blowers, clearly defined areas of use and raking should offer an approach for Menlo Park and similar communities. If the MP City Council has the nerve to address this issue, effective enforcement would be a necessary accompaniment (based on Palo Alto's experience dealing with gas blowers).

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Jan 9, 2019 at 4:33 pm

I’m so sorry you View redwood leaf mulch as unsightly, and prefer gorilla hair, because the former is natural and native to this area, and the latter is not. While I am hardly a hardline nativist, and I do own an electric leaf blower, I almost never use it. Perhaps theee times a year. In my opinion, gas blowers should absolutely be banned. The “big jobs” will just have to go back to brooms and rakes. I find peadblowera in general massively disturbing, noise-wise, and they go completely against what PV is all about. Can we not just remembrance the sound of birds and silence?

3 people like this
Posted by Dave Ross
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 10:05 pm

We use an electric leaf blower to clear off our roof and driveway, especially when it is about to rain. When the batteries run out (we rotate 2 batteries, but really need more for any job over 20 minutes) we rake or sweep. We would never consider using a leaf blower over soil or planted areas (or letting a gardener do so). From time to time we have had a gardener blow leaves off the roof and the driveway, always collecting them for mulching in our back yard. The gardener uses a gas-powered blower, at the lowest possible setting for the work. The sound is barely audible off site.

What people are advocating for here, in my o0inion, is a ban on a tool because it is mis-used by some (many?). Shall we ban cars because people run stop signs and drive dangerously? I see as many complaints on our local PVForum about dangerous driving as I do about leaf blower noise. Maybe banning gas-powered leaf blowers will be a popular choice, and I will appreciate quieter Thursdays (it seems that all of our neighbors' gardeners descend on that day, even on Thanksgiving!).

We already have a noise ordinance that addresses power tools. Has that been adequately enforced? If not, how will a ban be enforced? Will the Sheriff's Office respond to citizen complaints, or will that be handled by Town staff? We run a pretty lean staff, and this could be a full-time job.

PS - my standard minor rant: I appreciate commenters who use their real names. This is not a national security issue, why not participate in a way that shows you are willing to stand up for your opinions? Fear of reprisal? I believe community civility would be enhanced by eliminating anonymous commenting. After all, if you attend a public meeting to voice your opinions or concerns, everyone knows who said what. Is that a problem for so many?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 2,273 views

Premarital and Couples: Musings on Life
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,626 views

Why we are Warming
By Sherry Listgarten | 30 comments | 1,553 views

Cap On? Cap Off? The Cities Respond
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,287 views

List for a new baby
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 387 views