Potential limits on using leaf blowers in town and raising additional funding for the civic center project will be discussed when the Atherton City Council reconvenes after a quiet August at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4.
In May, the town’s Environmental Programs Committee recommended that the City Council support phased restrictions on gasoline-powered leaf blowers and possibly back rebates and incentives to support restrictions, according to a town staff report. Neighboring jurisdictions have recently placed restrictions on the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers because of noise and pollution concerns.
The town now restricts hours leaf blowers can be used, but not the type of blower, according to staff. (Leaf blowers may be used between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday.)
Staff has analyzed the feasibility of town maintenance workers and workers on private properties switching to electric-powered blowers. The analysis concluded that it may be difficult for town staffers, who use gas-powered blowers in Holbrook-Palmer Park, El Camino Real medians, the stream channel, sidewalks and streets, to switch to corded or battery-powered electric leaf blowers. These areas do not typically have electrical outlets readily available, which would require the blower to hold a longer charge or have portable gas generators available, according to the Public Works Department. (Battery-powered electric blowers require two or three backup batteries for each machine as well as a nearby charging source, according to the staff report. Disposal of lithium-ion batteries can be a source of pollution, but they may be recycled.)
The department notes that a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers would require additional personnel or reduced level of maintenance in town, along with “substantial capital outlay” for equipment, according to the report.
It could also be difficult for private property owners to switch to electric leaf blowers since properties in town are significantly larger on average than those in surrounding jurisdictions, staff noted. Prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers would require landscape contractors to purchase new equipment, resulting in increased costs for the contractor or higher costs to homeowners to maintain their properties.
Residential electric leaf blowers cost between $30 to $150, while gas-powered machines cost about $75, according to the report. Commercial leaf blowers, more appropriate for larger lots, cost between $175 and $600. Walk-behind leaf blowers may be more appropriate for “very large” properties, but there are fewer electric models on the market, and the minimum cost is $150, staff reported.
Nearby towns such as Los Altos and Portola Valley have approved bans on gas-powered leaf blowers. Portola Valley town staff noted that blowers' two-stroke engines can generate greenhouse gas emissions, over one hour, equivalent to a car trip from Los Angeles to Denver; and that the engines can produce noise of up to 112 decibels, equivalent to a car horn heard at 3 feet away.
Most gas-powered blowers have two-stroke engines, which mixes fuel with oil to operate the device, according to the town’s staff report. Over 30% of the fuel that the engine uses fails to completely combust, releasing several air pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons, according to the report. Studies have indicated that a gas-powered two-stroke leaf blower generated 23 times the carbon monoxide, and almost 300 times the non-methane hydrocarbons when compared with a 2011 Ford Raptor truck over a 30-minute period of usage, the report said.
Civic center project funding, town attorney to depart
At the same meeting, town staff will update the council on finances for the town’s new civic center project. Although the town has sufficient funds to complete the project, the project will limit its cash flow, according to a town staff report.
Staff is recommending that the council consider a financing mechanism called "certificates of participation" (COPs) to finance part of the construction cost in order to cover projected cash-flow shortfalls. Unlike bonds, COPs do not require public approval. Project contractor S.J. Amoroso predicts that the project will be complete as early as June 2021, according to the staff report.
The staff earlier estimated that a $7 million COP would be sufficient to cover the cash-flow requirements. Now, it puts the estimate at a minimum of $8 million.
“While the council previously advised that the Town’s Operational Reserve could be used toward the Town’s cash flow needs, it is the recommendation of (consultant) Urban Futures and staff that the Town’s reserve policies continue to be met as they will be required by the underwriter for credit rating purposes and to show the ability to maintain debt service payments in the event of an economic downturn,” the staff report states.
The report shows what it would cost the town to finance $8 million to $10 million over 15 to 25 years. Predicted interest rates range from 1.48 to 2.66 percent, depending on the amount borrowed and the term of repayment.
“Staff believes it is prudent and beneficial that the Town begin the process of a COP within the next 6 months,” the report says.
Before the study session on the leaf blowers and civic center funding, the council will discuss how to fill City Attorney Bill Conners’ position. Conners announced his resignation in early August, effective Dec. 31, according to a town staff report.
Conners, who was appointed to his position in 2011, told The Almanac he is retiring.
The council will vote on whether to approve a staff-created timeline for replacing him. If approved, proposals for city attorney services would be due Oct. 7, and interviews would be conducted the week of Oct. 14. The council would aim to appoint the attorney on Nov. 6, with a tentative start date of Dec. 2.
The Sept. 4 meeting will begin at 4 p.m. in the Main House at Holbrook-Palmer Park. View the full meeting agenda here.