Blowin’ in the Wind

Dear Readers,

The leaf-blower bout continues! See rounds I, II, and III here.

Resident activists who requested the ban last October were at the January 21 Takoma Park city council meeting to discuss their proposed ban of gasoline-powered leaf blowers.

Most of the council were careful not to commit to a pro- or anti-ban position. The exception, Ward 3 councilmember Dan Robinson came out in favor of a ban. The mayor and councilmembers kicked the idea around until it had nearly lost its shape, but the activists kept trying to pump the air back into it.

Of course, Dear Readers, the council is just doing its job, exploring potential unforeseen results of a ban, alternatives to a ban, the potential unforeseen results of each alternative, the costs, legalities, the public reaction, and so forth.

Some of the alternatives were to limit certain types of blowers and/or to phase out older, more polluting, more noisy models. It was clear from his testimony, however, that police chief Ronald Ricucci was not eager to enforce such regulation, nor did he have the trained personnel.

Another alternative discussed was the banning of all devices with 2-cycle oil/gasoline engines, the type found in leaf-blowers.

The activists reminded everyone that they weren’t asking for such complications, only a straightforward ban on gasoline-powered leaf-blowers, of which enforcement would be plain and simple.
As for the city’s use of leaf-blowers, Public Works Director Daryl Braithwaite testified that though the city owns some, they are not used very much. They are not practical for curbside leaf collection, she said, and are mostly used to blow grass clippings and to help clean up in tree removal operations.

Discontinuing city use of gas blowers would cost an additional $2000 annually, she said.

By the way, Mayor Bruce Williams disclosed that he owns a leaf blower, but he said he doesn’t use it so much for blowing leaves but for cleaning up debris, especially acorns.
The councils sticking points seemed to be these:

1). A reluctance to interfere with residents’ rights to own and use an otherwise perfectly legal tool.

2). The concern that a ban would affect landscape maintenance businesses, making it impossible or more expensive to hire them in the city.

3) The tight focus on leaf-blowers runs counter to the “big-picture” approach the council is trying to make with its study of city priorities.

Your Gilbert appreciates the reluctance to interfere with resident’s rights. This is a respectful libertarian (small “l”) approach that we’d like to see more of from our council. Where was this respect for personal liberty when the council was passing regulations stipulating how residents should trim their shrubs and lawns, paint their houses, and otherwise spruce up their property to the council’s standards?

However, Your Gilbert knows that the libertarian rule-of-thumb in such matters is the maxim “Your rights end at my nose and vice versa.” In other words, if whatever another person is doing doesn’t hurt you, its none of your business.

An untrimmed shrub hurts no one. It comes nowhere near your nose. Pollution does, however – through your nose and into your lungs. And the noise invades your ears. Your Gilbert believes that the right to own a tool does not include the right to blow pollutants and noise at your neighbors.

So, we have no objection to people owning such tools, as long as they contain the noise and pollution exclusively to their own property. That, of course, is impossible unless they use them indoors – which they are welcome to do as far as we are concerned.

As for the landscape businesses – since when does the right of a few to make a buck trump the right of all to breath clean air?
OK, in this country since forever. But, do we have to have that in Takoma Park?

Bangs For The Bucks

You didn’t buy enough raffle tickets, Dear Readers! The Independence Day Committee was forced to panhandle the council for funds.

For years city has been shelling out $8250 annually to the committee, which puts on Takoma Park’s 4th of July parade and fireworks. The day’s festivities are not, as many think, fully funded and organized by the city.

Looks like the city will now be funding more, while leaving most of the work to the committee. The mayor proposed having the cost of the fireworks, and possibly the insurance and other costs covered by city funds.

– Gilbert.

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.

2 Comments on "Blowin’ in the Wind"

  1. Folks should check out the Web site for information to support the ban request. I see you linked to it, thanks, but it deserves a repeat link.
    Also, Steve Davies prepared a packet for the council. It’s posted to although be warned: the file is large.
    Chief Ricucci was reluctant to enforce noise-related regulations given measurement difficulties. This complication points to an easier-to-enforce, outright ban.
    We made the point that ban doesn’t have to be 12 months/year. We also made the point that there are four dimensions: 1) pollution a.k.a. greenhouse gas emissions, 2) fossil-fuel use, 3) noise, and 4) health effects, which include respiratory effects due to the debris and dirt the blowers kick up into the air and the non-use of protective equipment (masks, ear protection) by residents and crews who use the blowers.
    I believe that the council is starting to see it our way, especially given the precedent of cities such as Palo Alto and Cambridge, MA, and will enact some form of ban.

  2. I think people are getting hung up on some issues that, while important, are not central to this debate.
    One is noise. The other is known by various catch-phrases: greenhouse gases, climate change, global warming, carbon footprint.
    The noise is bad. No matter what Mr. Nelson says, 70 decibels is loud. And leafblower noise is different than other noise. It’s the pitch, the tone, the incessant whine. Some are worse than others, I’ll grant you (or “better.” Speaking of which, the industry likes to say their new blowers are “quieter,” when “slightly less offensive” might be more accurate.)
    But noise is noise. Two leafblowers are noisier than one; three are noisier than two (as Nelson stipulated at the meeting during a mildly amusing exchange).
    But you know what? One person’s noise is another’s symphony. And perhaps the leaf blower addicts just love that sound. The crews hired to blow the lawns and landscapes may hear it and think “money.” But the work could be done just as “efficiently” with rakes or electric blowers (a recent Consumer Reports lists a very inexpensive electric handheld blower as one of its top 100 gadgets of the year. It says that this particular model has gas-powered blowers beat on power.
    It’s the pollution that is the worst culprit, and the evidence is overwhelming that gas blowers and mowers contribute significantly to the bad air quality we experience in this metro area. I would say ozone pollution, but my wife tells me no one understands that, that people can only think of ozone layer. But let me say it again — ground-level ozone, while considered a greenhouse gas, is by itself a public health problem of the highest magnitude, and our local, county and state governments aren’t doing squat to address it. Instead, everything is about Climate Change, carbon footprint, etc.
    I see that the Gazette, in its coverage of the worksession, had me “saying” (I use quotes because there were no quotation marks in the article) that reducing the city’s “carbon footprint” is one of the reasons to prohibit the use of gas-powered leafblowers. I thank the reporter for at least adding that I mentioned the health of city residents. I believe what I said was that at bottom, this is a public health issue because blowers add NOx and VOCs to the air, contributing to, again, the unhealthy “air” we’re forced to inhale during the summer (and fall). Yes, we should do what we can to reduce the “carbon footprint,” but given that global warming is a worldwide problem (sort of out of our hands), perhaps we should focus on doing what we can locally — the biggest bang for the buck — to ameliorate the effects of warmer temperatures.
    We will present more data on the costs of high ozone levels — damn, there’s that word again. How about SMOG? I’m talkin lost school days, absences from work, premature deaths. The benefits of cleaner air can be quantified and the numbers are staggering. Yet no one wants to talk about asthma (exacerbated by pollen… whoops, but that’s the result of our sacred trees. Don’t go there Steve.)
    Is it cost-effective to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers? Yes, when taking into account the benefits of cleaner air (and a less noisy environment. I didn’t mean to downplay the noise problem before. Noise also is a public health problem, as acknowledged by Mr. Nelson at the meeting. Watch the video; he pretty much makes our case for us.)
    Would the public health and welfare be best served if we were to reduce ALL air pollution — from blowers, mowers, edgers, chainsaws, cars, et al, ad nauseam?
    So, where do we start?
    Steve Davies

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