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Menlo Park again mulls a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

Opponents of gas-powered leaf blowers favor a citywide ban in Menlo Park, arguing that they pose health and environmental problems. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Twenty-three years after Menlo Park voters halted a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, the city is once again thinking of enacting one.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Jen Wolosin absent, to set up a study session to discuss the details of a gas-powered leaf blower ban, including how it should be implemented, how it could be enforced, and what staff resources it would take to do so.

In 1998, Menlo Park voters split 45% for and 55% against Measure E, a referendum asking whether the city should adopt a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

In contrast, other nearby communities have bans on gas-powered leaf blowers: Los Altos has had one since 1991, Palo Alto's ban on them in residential areas took effect in 2005, and Portola Valley banned them in 2019 with a two-year delay in enforcement. Portola Valley also offered a leaf blower trade-in program in which residents could bring in their gas-powered leaf blowers to receive 40% of the cost of an electric blower, up to $120.

As of August, some Portola Valley residents said they've noticed that the town seems noticeably quieter since the ban took effect in January. In Atherton, officials haven't gone for a ban, but the town is conducting a pilot project to use battery-powered leaf blowers in Holbrook-Palmer Park and on public streets.

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Recent state legislation pushed the issue further – on Oct. 9, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will phase out the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers by 2024.

The legislation, authored by Menlo Park resident and state Assemblyman Marc Berman, calls on the California Air Resources Board to, by July 2022, create policies to prohibit the sale of new "small off-road engines" by 2024, a category that includes gas-powered leaf blowers, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws.

Gas-powered leaf blowers could be facing a citywide ban in Menlo Park. Photo by Veronica Weber.

During Tuesday's discussion, about six community members spoke in favor of enacting a ban while one person raised concerns. Those in favor of the ban included two pediatric physicians in the community who talked about the harmful health effects of leaf blowers.

David Axelrod, a pediatric cardiologist at Stanford Children's Health, said there are decades of rigorous research that describe how environmental pollutants disproportionately impact children compared to adults. They breathe faster than adults, the volume of air they breathe compared to their body weight is larger, they are closer to the ground, where pollutants are more dense, and their lungs, hearts and brains are more sensitive because they are still developing, he said.

Gas-powered leaf blowers emit harmful pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde and hydrocarbons, and propel hazardous particulates from the ground into the air, such as dust, dirt, brake lining powder from vehicles and herbicides. In addition, the noise levels they produce can increase blood pressure and stress hormone levels, he said.

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"It's our duty to protect our children, and one small step to put us on the right side of history," he said.

Carlos Myers-Asencio, a 15-year-old Menlo Park resident, also supported the ban.

"Banning leaf blowers is low-hanging fruit, but its impacts are sure to be fruitful," he said.

The Menlo Park City Council plans to further discuss the possibility of banning gas-powered leaf blowers citywide. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Kathleen Daly, who runs Cafe Zoe in the Willows neighborhood, said she agreed that leaf blowers are annoying, but raised concerns about the impacts of the ban on the service workers who are tasked with maintaining the yards of Menlo Park residents. Many gardeners were out of work during at least a portion of the pandemic, and asking them to spend a significant amount of money now to swap out their tools could pose a hardship, she said.

One of the significant questions with any ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers is how to enforce the ban. In Palo Alto, residents have complained for years about the lack of enforcement – a problem that became worse last year when budget cuts prompted the city to cut a code enforcement officer position.

Mayor Drew Combs said he anticipated that the ordinance could require a full-time code enforcement officer.

City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson brought up other possible concerns, some of which emerged while the city was enforcing a ban on gardening services during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The enforcement question brings up social equity questions, such as whether gardeners or the households who hire them should be accountable for violations. The earlier gardening ban also set certain expectations in the community that the city has the resources to provide on-demand enforcement, which it does not, she said.

Council members seemed somewhat split over the timeline for passing an ordinance. Vice Mayor Betsy Nash pushed to have the ban passed quickly.

"There's so much evidence out there that it is a health and noise hazard ... and I think that it's past time that we do implement an ordinance," she said.

"I'm supportive of the ban, but also believe we need a process that reaches out to affected stakeholders," Councilman Ray Mueller said.

Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said she supported the ordinance as well but wanted to ensure there would be adequate public outreach, including in Spanish, to make sure people are informed about the policy.

Environmental Quality Commissioner Leah Elkins said that she had tried to reach out to the Bay Area Gardeners Association to gather feedback about the proposed ordinance but hadn't heard back.

The council's discussion of a possible leaf blower ban came up as part of a larger conversation about what the city's Environmental Quality Commission should work on over the next year. Among its other priorities are to support the city's work toward its Climate Action Plan, work on preserving the city's urban tree canopy, and pursuing other "green and sustainable initiatives."

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

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Menlo Park again mulls a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Nov 18, 2021, 10:21 am

Twenty-three years after Menlo Park voters halted a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, the city is once again thinking of enacting one.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Jen Wolosin absent, to set up a study session to discuss the details of a gas-powered leaf blower ban, including how it should be implemented, how it could be enforced, and what staff resources it would take to do so.

In 1998, Menlo Park voters split 45% for and 55% against Measure E, a referendum asking whether the city should adopt a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

In contrast, other nearby communities have bans on gas-powered leaf blowers: Los Altos has had one since 1991, Palo Alto's ban on them in residential areas took effect in 2005, and Portola Valley banned them in 2019 with a two-year delay in enforcement. Portola Valley also offered a leaf blower trade-in program in which residents could bring in their gas-powered leaf blowers to receive 40% of the cost of an electric blower, up to $120.

As of August, some Portola Valley residents said they've noticed that the town seems noticeably quieter since the ban took effect in January. In Atherton, officials haven't gone for a ban, but the town is conducting a pilot project to use battery-powered leaf blowers in Holbrook-Palmer Park and on public streets.

Recent state legislation pushed the issue further – on Oct. 9, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will phase out the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers by 2024.

The legislation, authored by Menlo Park resident and state Assemblyman Marc Berman, calls on the California Air Resources Board to, by July 2022, create policies to prohibit the sale of new "small off-road engines" by 2024, a category that includes gas-powered leaf blowers, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws.

During Tuesday's discussion, about six community members spoke in favor of enacting a ban while one person raised concerns. Those in favor of the ban included two pediatric physicians in the community who talked about the harmful health effects of leaf blowers.

David Axelrod, a pediatric cardiologist at Stanford Children's Health, said there are decades of rigorous research that describe how environmental pollutants disproportionately impact children compared to adults. They breathe faster than adults, the volume of air they breathe compared to their body weight is larger, they are closer to the ground, where pollutants are more dense, and their lungs, hearts and brains are more sensitive because they are still developing, he said.

Gas-powered leaf blowers emit harmful pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde and hydrocarbons, and propel hazardous particulates from the ground into the air, such as dust, dirt, brake lining powder from vehicles and herbicides. In addition, the noise levels they produce can increase blood pressure and stress hormone levels, he said.

"It's our duty to protect our children, and one small step to put us on the right side of history," he said.

Carlos Myers-Asencio, a 15-year-old Menlo Park resident, also supported the ban.

"Banning leaf blowers is low-hanging fruit, but its impacts are sure to be fruitful," he said.

Kathleen Daly, who runs Cafe Zoe in the Willows neighborhood, said she agreed that leaf blowers are annoying, but raised concerns about the impacts of the ban on the service workers who are tasked with maintaining the yards of Menlo Park residents. Many gardeners were out of work during at least a portion of the pandemic, and asking them to spend a significant amount of money now to swap out their tools could pose a hardship, she said.

One of the significant questions with any ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers is how to enforce the ban. In Palo Alto, residents have complained for years about the lack of enforcement – a problem that became worse last year when budget cuts prompted the city to cut a code enforcement officer position.

Mayor Drew Combs said he anticipated that the ordinance could require a full-time code enforcement officer.

City Manager Starla Jerome Robinson brought up other possible concerns, some of which emerged while the city was enforcing a ban on gardening services during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The enforcement question brings up social equity questions, such as whether gardeners or the households who hire them should be accountable for violations. The earlier gardening ban also set certain expectations in the community that the city has the resources to provide on-demand enforcement, which it does not, she said.

Council members seemed somewhat split over the timeline for passing an ordinance. Vice Mayor Betsy Nash pushed to have the ban passed quickly.

"There's so much evidence out there that it is a health and noise hazard ... and I think that it's past time that we do implement an ordinance," she said.

"I'm supportive of the ban, but also believe we need a process that reaches out to affected stakeholders," Councilman Ray Mueller said.

Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said she supported the ordinance as well but wanted to ensure there would be adequate public outreach, including in Spanish, to make sure people are informed about the policy.

Environmental Quality Commissioner Leah Elkins said that she had tried to reach out to the Bay Area Gardeners Association to gather feedback about the proposed ordinance but hadn't heard back.

The council's discussion of a possible leaf blower ban came up as part of a larger conversation about what the city's Environmental Quality Commission should work on over the next year. Among its other priorities are to support the city's work toward its Climate Action Plan, work on preserving the city's urban tree canopy, and pursuing other "green and sustainable initiatives."

Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]

Comments

menlo parent
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 18, 2021 at 1:10 pm
menlo parent, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:20 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 3:20 pm

It makes no sense to ban a specific technology instead of imposing noise limits on all types of garden equipment.

If ICE (internal combustion engines) cannot meet a reasonable noise limit then they can be prohibited and if electric blowers exceed the same noise limit then they should be banned.


sjtaffee
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2021 at 7:48 pm
sjtaffee, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2021 at 7:48 pm

The banning of gasoline powered leaf blowers is a good start toward lowering air and noise pollution in MP. My suggestion for enforcement is to warn, cite, and then fine homeowners who allow this practice on their property. It will be a lot easier than trying to track down the gardeners who are constantly on the move. Home owners should also be allow gardeners to plug into their household energy supply for corded blowers and/or offer recharging outlets for cordless blowers. Alternatively, the could purchase an electric blower for their home and instruct the gardeners to use it when on their property.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 19, 2021 at 8:36 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2021 at 8:36 am

If we want to control chemical emissions as well as noise then set standards for both.

And then whatever blowers using any technology that meets those standards is permitted and those blowers using any technology are prohibited.

Design based regulations inhibit innovation while performance based regulations encourage innovation.


Lash
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 19, 2021 at 11:32 am
Lash, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2021 at 11:32 am

Gasoline powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and chains saws all cause substantially more pollution than cars. I have seen some older studies but nothing recent so I won't quote them for now.

Regardless, I fail to see the issue as a noise problem. If the plan to is ban ICE lawn maintenance devices then let's also ban all ICE. Ridiculous, first world entitlement issue.

I have to agree with Kathleen Daly from Zoe Cafe, this is an unfair burden on service workers. Easy target to attack service workers vs making home owners responsible for their gardeners' choices.... Maybe that's the answer... craft the enforcement side of this to make the home owners responsible for what is used to maintain their lawns.... then watch the city council cower.


Menlo Park Parent
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 22, 2021 at 10:16 am
Menlo Park Parent, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Nov 22, 2021 at 10:16 am

Gas leaf blowers are a significant noise and air pollution problem in Menlo Park and the sooner they are banned the better. They constantly disrupt the peace and their aggravating noise is audible from inside my house, from several houses away, even with all (double paned) windows and doors closed. Their noise travels for more than a block, and their noise and fumes make it unpleasant to take a walk during the day. I am seeing more of them used on weekends and holidays as well, and they are constantly used illegally on Spare the Air days.

It's good to take into consideration equity issues, however, here, there is no equity issue that would prevent a ban. I have spoken to a number of gardeners about gas leaf blowers--many of them already have electric blowers, which they use at the request of their clients. If some gardeners have electric blowers, among their thousands of dollars worth of equipment, then I'm not sure what the argument is that they are financially unobtainable for others. The city also could implement an incentive program to trade in gas blowers for electric models. Penalties for illegal use should be levied against homeowners, not against gardeners.

The police have been good about responding quickly to my calls about violations, and visiting gardeners to explain the rules (despite the oft repeated baseless concern that it’s impossible for police to arrive in time, while the gardener is still there). Some enforcement of a total ban will be necessary, but I don’t see enforcement as an issue that should prevent a ban, in fact, it would be simpler for all if these things were banned outright.

The state has banned the sale of these machines, starting in 2024, but this won’t stop their use, and certainly not before then. Other cities have enacted bans, Menlo Park can do it too.


David Roise
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 23, 2021 at 1:42 pm
David Roise, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2021 at 1:42 pm

There is already an ordinance on the books that prohibits the use of "non-certified leaf blowers" in Menlo Park. See Web Link The ordinance also limits the use of "certified leaf blowers" to the hours of 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, and prohibits their use on Spare the Air days. The ordinance defines "certified leaf blowers" as meaning "only those leaf blowers measured at sixty-five (65) dB(a) or less at a distance of fifty feet (50’) by an independent laboratory per American National Standards Institute ("ANSI") standard B175.2-1996, as certified by the manufacturer. (Ord. 895 § 3 (part), 1999)."

If Peter Carpenter were correct that setting standards for the use of leaf blowers would solve the problem, we wouldn't be having this discussion, since there is already a standard in place, at least with respect to noise. The problem is 1) the leaf blower industry doesn't seem willing or able to manufacture leaf blowers that meet the above standard, and 2) Menlo Park police don't seem willing or able to enforce the existing prohibition on "non-certified leaf blowers".

If I could wave a magic wand, I would ban the use of all 2-stroke engines in Menlo Park, since as pointed out by others above, it's not just the noise, it's the pollution. I would also impose fines on homeowners who allow these infernal devices to be used on their property.


Iris
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 23, 2021 at 1:50 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Nov 23, 2021 at 1:50 pm

This is low-hanging fruit to address climate change and to improve health.
Could there be a fund established for bridging the cost gap for lower-income gardeners to replace their equipment?


krswitky
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Nov 24, 2021 at 9:11 am
krswitky, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Nov 24, 2021 at 9:11 am

It's high time that Menlo Park follow the lead of many other cities in banning these noisy, polluting machines that harm the workers who use them. Like David Roise above, I wish we could ban all two-stroke engines (the worst in both noise and pollution), and indeed - all leaf blowers, for they do irreparable harm to our soils. But this is a good start, and I hope City staff and the Council move swiftly on this matter.


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