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Fate of Leaf Blowers Taken Up by City’s Environmental Advisory Commission

Environmental Advisory Committee will prepare information package for Public Safety Committee

Published on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 | 5:50 am
 

The days of reckoning for Pasadena’s army of two-stroke gas engine-powered leaf blowers may soon be at hand. Or not. 

The City’s Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) met online Tuesday to “create a package of information” for the City Council Public Safety Committee to consider at an upcoming meeting. The Public Safety Committee could then make any number of recommendations to the City Council, including banning the machines, or considering other alternatives.

As Commissioner Nicole Cobleigh noted, “Our committee as an advisory body is merely gathering information. We’ve done the background research and we’re gathering input from the public and our mission. 

“Our goal,” she continued,  “is to assemble everything and provide the Public Safety Committee, not with a recommendation one way or another, (but we are) sort of providing the information to the decision makers that they can use to make educated decisions. We are not a decision making body.”

According to a presentation to committee members by Commissioner Weslee Glenn, South Pasadena is one of many in California to have banned leaf blowers, but Pasadena has not. Efforts were made by residents to bring up a more formal discussion on bans in the City Council from 2013 to 2017, but those efforts never bore fruit, according to Commissioner Cobleigh. 

In a brief history of the issue, Glenn said that blowers were invented in the 1940s,  but were first introduced to  the American market in 1970.

By 1975, Carmel by the Sea became the first California city to ban leaf blowers. For the next 11 years, homeowners often used water hoses to clear away leaves and dirt from sidewalks, but a severe statewide drought,  which lasted through 1992, brought an end to the practice.  In 1987, Pasadena enacted a noise ordinance,  but by the year 2000, said Glenn, 20 other cities had now enacted total bans on the machines, whereas Pasadena simply imposed noise standards and exemptions.

According to the City’s current ordinance regulating leaf blowers: 

  • It is unlawful for any person to use or to operate, or cause to be operated any type of leaf-blowing machine or device within a residential area before 8:00 am and after 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday; before 9:00 am and after 5:00 pm on Saturday; or at any time on Sunday. 
  • It is unlawful for any person to use or allow to be used, or to operate or cause to be used or operated any type of leaf-blowing machine or device in the city within a radius of 500 feet of a residential area before 8:00 am and after 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday; before 9:00 am and after 5:00 pm on Saturday; or at any time on Sunday. 
  • It is unlawful for any person to use or operate, or cause to be used or operated, a leaf blower in such a manner as to blow, dispel or make airborne, leaves, grass cuttings, paper, trash or any other type of unattached debris or material, which, by use of the leaf blower, will intentionally cause such leaves, grass cuttings, paper, trash or any other type of unattached debris or material to become airborne or travel beyond the property boundaries of the parcel on which it is being used, to adjoining properties or public rights-of—way within the city, and to remain therefore more than 15 minutes.

In 2008, Pasadena’s city manager informed the City Council of an increase in leaf blower complaints. This was followed by an approved 2009 Pasadena Public Health Department plan to reduce noise and environmental damage. Mayor Tornek addressed the EAC and urged the committee to hold a public forum, which, given the events of the past year, finally took place Tuesday.

“I never really thought this was all that important before,” said Commissioner Mark Nay, “but this is really something to be discussing now.”

Glenn told the committee that they should consider how noise affects workers, children, adults and seniors. Public Safety should also determine how fumes, oil contaminants, aerosols, dust affect workers and community members, as well as consider alternatives to two-stroke engine lawn equipment.

The Committee should also  determine if there is “an appetite and a market for battery-powered systems,” and if there less noisy, less polluting electric models for lawn equipment, according to Glenn’s presentation.

The EAC is currently accepting public comments on leaf blowers until the end of October through the City’s website, and will be meeting again on October 27 to prepare master files for the Public Safety Committee, according to Commissioner Cobleigh. 

An ad hoc committee will then meet to prepare a letter or memo for the draft information package, which should be ready in November.

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