The Woodside Council took the first step toward a new leaf blower ordinance at its July 28 meeting.
With Councilman Sean Scott absent, the council voted 4-2 to introduce an ordinance that would limit the hours for commercial use of leaf blowers to the same hours construction is allowed: between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Councilmen Dick Brown and Chris Shaw voted against the introduction of the ordinance, with Shaw calling it an "empty vote."
The ordinance regulates commercial use of leaf blowers and does not place restrictions on property owners' use of the equipment. Public comments at a council study session last month revealed concerns about limiting noise and disruption caused by leaf blowers, but also pointed to the need for property owners to be able to efficiently clear leaves and debris from large areas to ensure fire safety.
Enforcement of the ordinance would be handled much the same as for construction hours, according to Town Manager Kevin Bryant, in which complaints typically lead to violators receiving an initial warning from a sheriff's deputy.
"For most of those things, that one interaction takes care of it," Bryant said.
Setting hours for commercial use is the first component of the ordinance. Staff is developing an incentive program to encourage a switch from gasoline-powered blowers, which tend to be noisier and cause more pollution, to electric-powered ones.
Town staff also will develop educational material with the objective of having a mailer or Woodsider article announcing the new commercial leaf blowing hours, the incentive program, and educational material, according to a staff report.
The ordinance will be up for a second vote at the Sept. 8 council meeting and, if approved, would go into effect 30 days later.
At the meeting, the council revisited older business, approving documents for decorum and public meetings and holding a study session on zoning code amendments for "natural state" requirements that had first gone before the council in 2018.
The council voted 6-0 to approve two documents prepared by the Volunteerism/Volunteer Liaison Engagement Committee: the Public Meeting Decorum and a Guide to Public Participation at Town Council Meetings.
The document on decorum includes rules for civil discussion and time limits for public speakers (three minutes per individual and five minutes per group).
The committee recommended that the Public Meeting Decorum document be shared with all town boards and committees, according to a staff report, with further recommendations to post the document at the entrance to Independence Hall (when in-person meetings resume) and include it in the town's Volunteer Handbook. Brown pointed out that lack of decorum has rarely been an issue in public meetings.
The public meeting guide is more educational, Bryant said, "so people who are coming for the first time, they have a sense of what to expect."
The guide would help demystify the process of public meetings and emphasize that the public may comment on any item on the agenda, including the council's consent calendar, he said. Council members noted that inviting public comment on the consent calendar has been inconsistent in meetings.
In a study session, the council also explored amendments to the zoning code related to "natural state," essentially requiring that when a property is developed, a certain percentage of a hillside lot be left undisturbed to help maintain natural habitat and rural character. Planning Director Jackie Young noted that natural state is most applicable to the Western Hills area. The percentage that must be left as natural state is determined by a measurement that gives average ground slope on the property, Young said.
The natural state ordinance dates to 1980 and would be updated in four key ways, based on recommendations from the Planning Commission that, according to a staff report, the council initially reviewed in September 2018: Make an inventory of vacant land, identify how many undeveloped properties can be subdivided and look at also applying natural state requirements to undeveloped lots less than 1 acre; in situations where land must be restored to natural state, (through grading or native planting, for example), explore creating reclamation standards prepared by a town biologist; clarify the natural state definition and include allowances for fire safety measures; and examine the implications of including slopes over 35% as natural state.
The council voted to direct staff to come back with regulations for the first three items, but to hold off on the fourth item due to its complexity and likely impact on the Western Hills area. Council members said they wanted to take more time to study the issue, get resident input and possibly include the item as part of a larger plan for the Western Hills and Old La Honda Road areas.
The council typically goes on hiatus for August, but Mayor Ned Fluet floated the idea of holding one meeting this month to allow the council to start catching up on business delayed by COVID-19. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 18.