"We all know the state's going to ban the sale of leaf blowers starting in January of next year," said Vice Mayor Diana Hawkins-Manuelian at a March 1 meeting. "So we've waited so long, the state is catching up with us. You're not going to be able to buy them at all in January 2024."
The council directed staff on March 1 to craft an ordinance that would ban two-stroke gas-powered leaf blowers — which tend to produce more pollutants than four-stroke blowers — on July 1, 2024. It also asked staff to focus on education on gas-powered and electric leaf blowers. Council member Rick DeGolia said there is plenty of time to figure out what the penalties would be for violating the proposed ordinance.
The draft ordinance will come back to the council at an April 19 meeting, according to City Manager George Rodericks.
The council did not come to consensus on whether to set any gas-powered leaf blower bans on Spare the Air days, when particulate pollution levels are forecast to be high. On these days, people are advised to limit their time outdoors, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Previously, the City Council voted to restrict the use of leaf blowers on Spare the Air days through fall 2022.
Palo Alto recently hired a full-time gas-powered leaf blower code enforcement officer. Menlo Park is aiming to begin enforcing a ban on the devices in July 2024.
Assembly Bill 1346 prohibits the sale of small off-road engines, including gas-powered leaf blowers, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws, in January. In July 2024, people will be banned from using the devices statewide.
One resident questioned why the town is taking the time to work on an ordinance when the statewide ban takes effect soon.
Reaching a decision
In January 2021, the council held a public hearing to consider an ordinance pertaining to noise from leaf blowers, an item carried over from the previous November's council meeting. But council members ultimately stopped short of a ban and opted to institute a pilot project to test battery-powered leaf blowers in Holbrook-Palmer Park and on Atherton's public roads.
In February 2022, an ad hoc subcommittee attempted to create a phased-in approach to the use of gas-powered garden equipment, eliminating the use of two-stroke gas powered leaf blowers in 2023 and authorizing the use of electric power garden equipment on the weekends to encourage a transition.
However, it was noted that enforcement of these provisions may get more complicated as the town and state phase out certain types of equipment. The thinking at the time was that the regulatory framework should be left to the state, while the town focuses on prohibiting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
In February 2022, the council did not reach consensus and asked the ad hoc subcommittee to refine the draft ordinance to return to the council in late 2022.
Hazards of gas-powered devices
Stanford pediatric cardiologist Dr. David Axelrod, who lives on the border of Menlo Park and Atherton, told the council last year that the devices should be banned "immediately" because of the health effects of air and noise pollution.
Hawkins-Manuelian noted that it's not just people with asthma being affected by particulate matter that can spread by blowers.
"We've had air levels in the last few years that are full-on hazardous to everybody," she said. "This is an issue that's going to carry with us."
Council member Elizabeth Lewis said that everyone can agree that gas-powered leaf blowers are a nuisance to the community, and that the same yard work can be done with electric leaf blowers or rakes.
"The state is sending a signal that you've not going to be able to buy these pieces of equipment anymore because they're bad," she said. "Our air is being polluted."
Council members agreed that they want homeowners, not their gardeners, to be responsible for any penalties for using gas-powered leaf blowers once they're banned.
The council also said they'd like to be able to offer residents rebates for buying new electric leaf blowers.
Some council members said the town should consider a buyback program like Portola Valley instituted when it banned the devices.
In terms of enforcement, Council member Stacy Miles Holland said it would be smart to start with a warning, then fine based on how many complaints the resident receives.
Educational talk on electric landscaping equipment
The American Green Zone Alliance will host a free electric and battery landscaping equipment training and introduction on Wednesday, March 29, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Atherton Town Hall, 80 Fair Oaks Lane in Atherton.
Attendees can try out the devices and there will be a classroom portion to learn how to save 70% off new equipment with limited-time funding from the state. Spanish-speaking trainers will be present.
There will be a light lunch and refreshments at 12:30 p.m. The event will also be held on Zoom.
Register at agza.net/atherton-workshop or email email@example.com for more information.
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