Ban the Blower?

Dear Readers,
While the city council pondered the parsing of their official priorities list, a group of citizens stepped up to the microphone with a bold call for action. The city should ban gas-powered leaf blowers, said Seth Grimes, representing a group of 31 local activists.

Blowers are a noxious source of pollutants and noise, said the group, and they called on Mayor Bruce Williams to “schedule a City Council work session as soon as practicable” to devise a plan to phase them out.

The group’s letter (link is to a pdf download), presented at the Citizen Comment segment of the October 13th city council meeting, was met with silence from the mayor and council. They often do not make remarks following citizen comments, but Your Gilbert wonders if this time it was because they were thinking “oh, crap!” It is one thing to spend hours carefully crafting a statement prioritizing environmental sustainability. It is another to enact a law that does something about it, especially when it pries gas-powered tinker toys out of the hands of outraged voters.

This is a lot more problematic than banning the nonexistent production of pate foi-gras or egg-farms within the city’s boundaries.

We are confident, however, that the city council will do the right thing, even in the face of apoplectic residents who incorrectly gauge the importance of climate change vs. their right to avoid raking*. Already, the city has no problem sticking it’s nose onto people’s properties to see if they have broken window panes, holes in their trash bins, or bottles on their porch. These are finable city code offenses and the city has officers who patrol the city looking for them.

Surely, the city is as concerned with preventing air and noise pollution as it is with preventing unsightly and unkempt properties? Surely!

We’ve already kicked the council for spending so much time on officially codifying its priorities. We won’t comment further, since unlike SOME people we don’t like to waste our time and considerable brainpower.

We will just report that the council has so far identified around 15 priorities, or 43 priorities if you want to count the “sub points.” No comment.

Useful dialog on the subject included: Councilmember Terry Seamens saying he hopes that residents are soon involved in the process. Councilmember Josh Wright noting that the city is diverse but not integrated, a concern mentioned in the report but not constructively addressed.

Readers, please use the comments section here to tell the council and the world what your priorities for the city are.

Also discussed was whether to do another citizen survey and if so, when and with what frequency? Councilmember Robinson said that he thought the city staff found the recent survey useful,. The city manager confirmed this, saying a well conducted survey gives a “valid representation” of what the community feels. Periodic surveys are even more helpful, she said.

Councilmember Colleen Clay expressed disappointment that the latest Washington Adventist Hospital plan does not include a birthing center. The WAH is moving to a new suburban site, but will leave various medical facilities on their current campus to cover in some part the services it now provides. Clay hopes to persuade them that a birthing center is needed, especially since the midwifery center in Old Town closed recently.

If the city is rocked by election eve riots, don’t blame Councilmember Clay. She tried to warn us, raising the possibility that presidential election results (either way) might prompt a “big response” from city residents. Councilmember Dan Robinson, expressing the general nonplussation, asked, “what are you suggesting?” Clay speculated that streets might become clogged, threatening public safety. The rest of the council seemed unconvinced, but on election eve, Your Gilbert is headed for Councilmember Clay’s ward with a bottle opener and his dancing shoes!
Marc Elrich, former Ward 5 city counclmember, now at-large county councilmember, gave a glum report to the council. The county government will be forced to cut back due to the poor economy, he said, and this is not a good time to press for rebates the city feels the county owes it from double-taxation.

He tried to discourage city councilmember Robinson’s notion that more county towns and districts should incorporate and become independent like Takoma Park. This would have the effect, said Robinson, of creating more allies in the struggles between the county and its municipalities, and would provide more responsive, efficient government for people in those towns. It would also save the county money if new municipalities took over public services as Takoma Park does.

Elrich waved away the notion, saying that such arrangements only work well in towns like Gaithersburg where there is a large commercial tax base, and since 80% of the businesses in an area to be incorporated must agree, it was not likely to happen.

Your Gilbert hopes Councilmember Robinson is not dissuaded. Also, we would like to remind him and our Dear Readers of an effort made a few elections ago to create more and smaller county council districts. This would have had the effect of making it less expensive to run for county council – reducing the influence of monied interests. It would also have made councilmembers more responsive to their constituents, as they would have fewer to serve. Incumbents such as our local councilmember George Leventhal, and a well-bankrolled campaign against it managed to convince voters this was a bad idea, and it was defeated. Your Gilbert thinks it is an idea worth reviving.

The city has a new lobbyist, Anne Ciekot, of Ciekot and Elliot. She was introduced to the council prior to the vote approving her appointment. Hardly worth mentioning, except for a curious instance. Councilmember Terry Seamens challenged Ms Ciekot to explain why she was so much better than the other bidder for the job. He prefaced the question by saying he personally knew the other bidder. She awkwardly described her resume and experience, Seamens left the room apparently due to a coughing fit, and the council voted for Ciekot in his absence.

– Gilbert
* the ban as envisioned by the citizen activist group would not include electric leaf blowers, however. Rakes are not the only alternative..

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

6 Comments on "Ban the Blower?"

  1. Keith Berner | October 16, 2008 at 6:15 pm |

    Increasing the number of county council districts and decreasing their size is essential for lessening the influence that big-money interests (read: the development industry) have on county policy.
    Sadly, the reactionary Democratic Party establishment in our fair county loves the developers and uses specious arguments (“this will allow Republicans to be elected to our council”) to damn this oh-so-reasonable idea. And the sheep (er, rank and file) that make up the whole party always do what their party bosses tell them.
    George Leventhal has been distinctly unhelpful on this issue, but he is hardly the core of the problem. I expect that if we could get to the folks on the Democratic Party Central Committee to actually care about *democracy*, you would see George and others show greater openness to reform.

  2. Colleen Clay | October 21, 2008 at 11:10 pm |

    You are welcome to come over on election night, but the big party is on Halloween, from 5-8 at my house. BTW, several constituents have called me about the possibility of election night activities, both those suggesting the city have a party, and those worried about happy or unhappy residents clogging streets. Not having been in the DC area for an administrative change, I thought I’d ask if we should be prepared for spontaneous parties. Word is — no worries. I shouldn’t expect the spontaneous wild rockin party that occurred when I lived in the S.F. Castro District in ’92.

  3. Colleen,
    Despite the “Berkeley of the East” tag, Takoma Park is as Inside the Beltway as Capitol Hill, Bethesda, or Arlington (but “The Arlington of Maryland Only Smaller and More Leftist” doesn’t have the same ooomph). As every human being knows, the Bay Area is THE best place on the planet with the Castro District as Ground Zero of Perfectness, so of course there are street parties when Democrats win.
    In California they make movies, so there life is like a movie. Inside the Beltway we make government, so here life is like reading the minutes of a budget sub-committe meeting. After a few years and administration changes and you will become as jaded and gray as the rest of us. The only action in the streets on election day is likely to be from real-estate agents racing around with “for sale” signs to post at the homes of politicians and appointees whose administration just got the heave-ho.
    – Gilbert
    PS. Are you now, or have you ever been a Surfer Girl?

  4. Steve Davies | October 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm |

    Councilmember Clay’s musings about a city-sponsored party sounded like appropriation of chickens prior to adherence with proper roosting protocol (See CFR 1776, Section 2008).
    That’s spoken as an Inside-the-Beltway-er (born in Washington, D.C.!) who, frankly, gets a tad tired of hearing the transplants from the Left Coast tell us buttoned-up Eastern types the way it’s done out in the Golden State.
    Leaving aside the (completely) inappropriate nature of the city planning any type of election night “party” for the candidate we all (OK, 95 pct) think and hope will win, I’d like to make a couple points.
    First, folks here have been burned and burned again. Many are jaded, as Gilbert says, from fighting bureaucratic battles for decades–and that goes for civil servants and nonprofit types alike.
    The GOP really knows how to win those damn elections! It appears the tide has turned, but no one really wants to be printing tee-shirts saying “President Obama.” The campaign and others will, I’m sure, but one hopes Senator Obama, a pretty good basketball player, isn’t high-fiving before the clock has hit zero. Remember Roger Clemens going in to get gussied up before Game 6 of the 1986 World Series was over? Dusty Baker (of the San Francisco Giants, mind you) awarding the game ball to his starter late in Game 6 of the Series against the Angels, before 27 outs had been recorded? (History will show that the Giants, who I think were 5 outs from becoming champs, lost the series).
    What did Yogi say? — It ain’t over till it’s over. Let’s not jinx it.
    As for parties, I suggest you travel down North Capitol Street on election night and check out Washington, D.C. I think you’ll see people hollering as if Joe Louis had just knocked out Max Schmeling. Or walk down 16th Street. You’ll be able to go almost anywhere, really. Maple Avenue should be hopping.
    I believe Chris Rock has a funny take on what will happen in the African-American community if Senator Obama wins. Suffice to say, not a lot of work will be getting done.
    I would say that pattern will be repeated throughout this country in many communities, to varying degrees. McCain’s Phoenix neighborhood might be a bad place to party down, but who knows?
    The sound you may be hearing right now is the nation’s capital holding its collective breath.
    So until then, let’s just enjoy the ride.

  5. Good comment, Steve, though we hasten to point out that councilmember Clay’s did not suggest a city-sponsored Election Day party. Her concern was public safety in case impromptu street-partying occurred.

  6. Steve Davies | October 26, 2008 at 9:17 pm |

    Thanks for the “clarification,” Gilbert, but I was at the meeting and I know what I heard. It sure sounded like she was talking about a city-sponsored party, but perhaps she just did not express herself very well. The stunned silence that greeted her comments lead me to believe I was not alone. Dan Robinson piped up after a little while and asked, “What are you suggesting, Colleen?” (check the video for the exact quote, which may not be faithfully recorded here).
    BTW, simply as a matter of accuracy, I presented the letter at the council meeting, not Seth. But please don’t correct it. I’d much rather Seth deal with any enraged gas-powered leaf blower owners.

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