Blunt Edge

Dear Reader,

The city council wants Takoma Park to be on the sharpest, pointiest angle of the environmental cutting edge, again. That’s where the city fancies it was a couple of decades ago when it introduced curbside recycling.

However, they are leery of regaining the edge by turning Puritan. The Puritan way is to ban things, especially sinfully convenient things, things people will experience soul-cleansing hardship to lose. Things like gas-powered leaf-blowers!

A group of local Puritans, er, environmentalists, are pushing the council to do just that. Some of them, swaddled in their green hand-woven natural-fiber robes, watched disapprovingly from beneath their cowls as the council tossed the ban proposal back and forth like an overheated planet at the July 20 city council meeting.

But the council is not eager to don the monkish garb. They were willing to seriously consider banning city employee’s use of gas-powered leaf-blowers – once they were safely assured by the Public Works director that such a ban would have little impact. But they balked at banning civilian and commercial use of them.

A total ban does not sit well with some residents, as Councilmember Dan Robinson reported. Robinson, usually quick to mention the city’s collective carbon footprint, recounted conversations he has had with constituents who place personal convenience and government non-interference in their exercise of it far above global warming on their priority lists. Robinson would like to see the issue on the ballot as a referendum. That, he said, would spark a citywide conversation.

Some councilmembers said they were frustrated the proposal was taking up so much time and discussion. They said they’d rather put their energy into establishing an environmental task force that would look at this issue and others in the process of creating an all-encompassing green policy for the city.

Seth Grimes, one of the 30 local environmentalists who submitted the ban request to the council, flung back his green hood and pointed out that the councilmembers were only postponing the inevitable, since surely some of the 30 would serve on the task force and surely they would recommend the same ban.


Co-inky dinky! Speaking of the Environmental Sustainable Task Force, that’s just what the council took up next – with a panel of folks mostly from the city’s Committee on the Environment (COE), including the committee’s chairperson Catherine Tunis. This is the committee the council was last heard plotting to suspend.

One COE member expressed “puzzlement” as to just why the council wants to suspend the committee, then appoint a task force to do essentially the committee’s job – propose ways for the city to become, once again, an environmental leader.

The council, squirming a bit in their seats, tried to explain itself without offending any valuable citizen volunteers. The committee, they said, has not had a full membership for a while, and communication with the council has not been what it could be, A shorter term task force with a focused goal would likely attract more people than the COE with its 3-year commitment. And, “starting fresh” would have a galvanizing effect on both the task force and the committee – once it was revived. [Oh, and the council would appoint the task force leader, no need for the task force to waste time electing one.]

There were some small flashes of objection from the COE members of the panel at this. Communication, they hinted, was lacking from the council end. They felt no direction from the council, despite its repeated (and repeated) mantra of Sustainability. Panel members hinted at what commentors to this blog have been squawking about – that the council has been ignoring the committee’s 2000 Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

That said, Catherine Tunis opined that the best way for the city to get to the leading edge would be to hire an sustainability coordinator, an expert who could recommend the best ways to shrink the city’s carbon footprint.
Mayor Bruce Williams said the council had rejected that idea on the last budget-go-around because of the cost. He didn’t add that they had opted instead to put the city into hock for a new Public Works facility (the cost of which looks to be mushrooming).

Councilmember Josh Wright said, in not quite these words, “yeah, well, I pushed for a sustainability coordinator at the time, toldya, toldya!”

At the end, the panel was willing to slap the council’s happy-face sticker on the task force idea. Or maybe, given the late hour, they were too tired to do anything else.


The council unanimously passed a resolution supporting activists on the school boundary issue. The resolution pointedly suggests that the county school system follow its own guidelines when redrawing school boundaries, while skirting direct criticism of their failure to do so. Councilmembers Donna Victoria and Josh Wright, whose constituents are directly effected, felt it was a little too vague and mild, so they give it a couple of small teeth implants.

Their new language gets more specific, saying city students should not be moved from certain schools. This mollified the parent activists who were present, one of whom said she initially planned to complain that the resolution was too weak, but was now satisfied with the new wording.

Complicating this issue is that while the activist’s goal is to keep their children in city schools, some Takoma Park parents they canvassed want their children to remain at the non-city school they now attend. The activists are championing those parents interests as well as their own. So, the activists, and the council, can’t simply call for city kids to go to city schools. Instead they are advocating that the school board “considers the input received through the community advisory committee and that considers the interests of the school children of populations that are traditionally less active in community processes.”

Yeah, that reduces Your Gilbert to yawning and scratching his head, too, Dear Reader. But, what that means is “ask what people want, even the people who don’t come out for meetings, and LISTEN to them, for once!”

One particularly bizarre aspect of this is that some Takoma Park Elementary School students would — if one of the proposed boundary changes goes through — have to be relocated twice. The boundary changes would not go into effect until fall 2011. Next year Takoma Park Elementary is being renovated, so all of its students will be bussed to a distant holding school. The following year the boundary-change students would then have to be bussed to their new regular school. As those students would no doubt say, “that sucks!”

Hammond Wry

You fans of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Sector Plan will remember that there are TWO Sector Plans in the works, one for each county. The Crossroads area straddles the Prince George’s and Montgomery County border. The city council recently submitted feedback on Prince George’s County sector plan. Now it is doing the same on Montgomery County’s.

The good councilmembers were a bit happier with Montgomery County’s plan, but they still had a long list of comments. One of the chief concerns was Hammond Avenue, a one-block long, residential street that the county wants to rezone for higher density (townhouses) and businesses. The council was not entirely happy with that.

Nor was local resident Barry Lee Howard. The current view from his home, he told the council, looks like the double-hill vista depicted on the city’s seal. He would lose that view if Hammond Ave is developed as proposed. He worried about additional crime, trash, and traffic that he said would follow if townhouses were built there. He criticized the mayor’s and councilmember Donna Victoria’s compromise suggestions.

LIke tired old basset hounds, the city’s political junkies half-roused from their naps and sniffed the air. Only last month Barry Lee Howard was one of two applicants who offered to fill the vacated Ward 6 council seat. The current occupant of the seat, Donna Victoria, was the other one. She is ineligible to run for it in the fall. Could Howard be preparing to run for that seat with Crossroads development as his campaign issue? Sniff, shiff!

– 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.

9 Comments on "Blunt Edge"

  1. Yo Gilbert:
    You never cease to surprise me with your viewpoint, whatever it might be on any given day.
    Where before you appeared to support the idea of a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, now you refer to its supporters as “Puritans.”
    Oh well, it’s all in fun, I suppose. It better be, because no one wants to get serious about the environment in this town — least of all our council, preoccupied as it is with Image and afraid of — I don’t know what, exactly. Action?
    But a couple of things…
    You write that “the council would appoint the task force leader.” Wrong. Here’s the resolution language: “The Task Force shall elect from among its members a Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary.”
    Secondly, taking your cue from the council discussion, you focus on carbon footprints and global warming… You’re off the mark. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — a prohibition on gas leaf blowers (which would mean electric leaf blowers and all other gas-powered lawn care eqpt would continue to be legal) would strike a blow against OZONE POLLUTION. I will post a subsequent comment with text of the proposed resolution and ordinance, which were not posted on the city’s web page for this work session.
    Maybe you’ll understand this: “It’s the Ozone, Stupid!”
    Climate change is coming no matter what we in Takoma Park do. I mean, I know a small group of committed citizens can change the world, but I don’t think that’s happened yet, despite the fact that Kathy Porter drove Bush and Cheney from office.
    We can, however, actually slow — ever-so-slightly — the continuing deterioration of air quality in the city and its environs by taking the minor step of ridding ourselves of unnecessary gas-powered leaf blowers.
    You write, “Some councilmembers said they were frustrated the proposal was taking up so much time and discussion.”
    Uh, we had a worksession in January and one in July. In between, it’s fairly clear that none of them even read the materials we provided on the environmental and health effects of ozone, created by emissions from — among other sources — gas leaf blowers. If they had tried to understand the issue, they wouldn’t have wasted so much time talking about greenhouse gases and carbon footprints.
    Councilman Robinson mentioned that he had talked with a couple of people who were upset about the proposal. Beyond their getting their backs up about being told what to do on their property (no matter whether it affects others or not), details of their opposition were not forthcoming. My guess is they’re people who use the machines to clean out their gutters, and as Councilman Snipper said in reference to landlords’ obligations under any future ban, they should be exempted from said ban.
    In any case, let the populace be heard! The council should propose something reasonable and hold a public hearing to get input from all interested parties. Let’s hear what the pro leaf blower folks have to say.
    Ah, Takoma Park. We love bashing the feds and sticking up for the rights of the dispossessed the world over, but what about our own backyard?
    All I can do is scratch my Puritan head.

  2. Your Gilbert would love to see gas-powered leaf-blowers banned! AND, a gas-powered lawn mower ban!
    But, we are smart enough to know we are in the minority, even here in the Former Cutting Edge of Municipal Environmentalism, 30 signatures on a letter is not a voting block. What politician in his/her right mind is going to ban a popularly used item based on a few signatures and a handful of studies and reports? Even if they are absolutely right.
    Instead of insisting that the council bow to the rightousness of your cause, wouldn’t you Purit . . . er, environmentalists, be more successful running a grassroots compaign to get more voters on your side and lobbying the council?
    Anyway, Seth Grimes made an excellent point – the task force is likely to be stuffed with environmentalists who signed the recommendation for a ban. It is just a matter of time before it lands on the council podium again – this time with the considerable weight of the task force behind it. And, if you folks do your grassroots organizing, the weight of public opinion behind it, too.
    As for appointing or electing the head of the task force, according to our only slightly disheveled and gin-stained meeting notes councilmember Josh Wright proposed that the council should appoint the task force leader, someone who is “a real task master,” and not let the committee choose.
    Councilmember Terry Seamens agreed as long as it was a decision made by the entire council.
    This is shortly after minute marker 3:50:00 on the online recording.
    – Gilbert

  3. Just a couple quick points, Gilbert–
    I’m not insisting that the council “bow to the righteousness of [our] cause.” Nor would I expect them to w/o a healthy debate. As I said in my post, they should propose something “reasonable” and at least hold a public hearing so they can hear all points of view on this. But they don’t even want to try and seek middle ground on this. They want to kick everything to a task force.
    As for whether they will appoint the head of the task force, what they said at the meeting is neither here nor there. It’s what the resolution says that matters. If they wish to choose the head of the task force, they will have to change the wording of the resolution, which they plan to vote on tonight. Choosing the head of a task force that has yet to be constituted seems to be jumping the gun a bit.
    Lastly, getting 21 people (3×6 council members=18, plus one mayorx3 = 21) to serve on this task force could be a tall order. Given the city’s history of commissioning reports and signing agreements but not following up, some potential task force members may wonder — why will this time be different?
    By the way, if you truly feel we’d be better off with a ban or at least some type of restriction on gas leaf blowers, then you should email or call your council rep–using you real name, that is.

  4. As promised, here’s the proposed ordinance:
    BTW, just to be clear, we’re only asking for a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, not lawnmowers. There was a grassroots organization — the lawnmower brigade — that tried to convince the council to take action on those machines, but I haven’t seen or heard from those folks in a while.

  5. The city could have a turn in program for older gas powered leaf blowers. Other citys have done so. The city would buy in bulk a lot of lower polluting blowers, and residents or taxpayers would be able purchase at a reduced cost a new lower polluting blower.The major manufactures all produce machines that meet or exceed Californias stringent standards.
    To participate in this program you would have to put down a deposit, and promise to turn in your old blower. Only functioning blowers would count.When the new machines arrive you would exchange blowers pay the balance, and the old machine would be crushed.A sledge hammer would do it.

  6. Steve Davies | July 31, 2009 at 10:14 pm |

    Indeed. But I’d go a step further and require them to buy an electric leaf blower or give them a rake. I don’t believe California has stricter requirements than the feds at this point. Fact is, there’s only so much one can do to make 2-cylinder handheld or backpack gas blowers “clean.” (I prefer the term “somewhat less dirty.”)
    The city could give folks $50 or $75 toward purchase of a new leaf-moving device.
    Thanks for the suggestion, Lawrence. I’m definitely with you on the idea but can’t see any reason to use machines powered by gasoline to blow leaves, dirt, dust and grass clippings around. (Some of the same results accrue from use of electric versions, but since people can’t seem to visualize using old-fashioned things like rakes, or simply are too infirm to use a rake, an allowance has to be made.)
    Steve Davies

  7. Yes, let them exchange for a good rake. Remember that this ban idea got started as a noise complaint. Rakes not only make a nice, quiet swooshing sound that annoys nobody, they are as low-maintenance as can be, and require no outside energy source (and associated costs, both monetary and environmental).
    Also, remember a suggestion made by councilmember Colleen Clay — in different context — that the city could help local teen entrepreneurs by encouraging and assisting them to form leaf raking crews. This would simultaneously create “green” jobs, give teens something constructive to do, encourage community spirit, and enhance the city’s reputation as an environmental, communitarian leader.
    – Gilbert

  8. Mr Davies is incorrect on the gas powered blowers. There are not any two cylinder back pack or hand held blowers out there, made by major manufacturers.
    Most back pack and hand held blowers have two cycle engines. New engines that use a leaner oil mixture (50-1) and tend to be far less polluting. The new oils are cleaner burning and foul plugs less frequently. Some of the older machines were at 16-1. Lotsa blue smoke. Better ignition systems burn the fuel better. There have been changes in reed valve technology. Fan design and blower hose have changed.There are now also 4 cycle machines available that are cleaner yet.
    Four cycle wheeled blowers have been around for decades.
    There aren’t any commercial quality electric blowers in the market. They can’t take the beating.
    There are yards that would take a 100 foot extension cord to do.A 15 amp motor would need a 10 wire cord to avoid motor damage due to voltage drop.
    That is a very very expensive cord when, and not if, you snag it.
    Heavy duty extension cords are not designed to be dragged around on the ground all day. Rocks and concrete will eat the insulation.
    Cleaning roofs and gutters while on a roof with a corded tool is impractical and dangerous. Ladders and extension cords don’t mix well.
    I do not advocate that the city give away money. Have you seen your property tax bill?
    It would be better to partner with a local store and have some sort of discount coupon. It wouldn’t cost the city anything, and the store and manufacturer could green up their image. Some dirty machines would be retired.
    Most of the people who would ban power equipment have never worn out shovels.

  9. Gil and Lawrence–
    A couple things–the ban idea didn’t start as a noise complaint. The letter requesting a work session mentioned noise, yes, but it’s the emissions from the gas-powered blowers we’re after. Not that I wouldn’t like to see ALL leaf blowers gone, because I would like to hear the birds chirping, but I’m realistic. Man–and I do mean man–must have his machines.
    Lawrence–I misspoke by saying “two cylinder.” I’m sure the newer blowers are “cleaner” than the old ones–they have to be, under regulations issued by EPA. But collectively, all the gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, edgers and trimmers make a very large contribution to the overall amount of NOx and VOC’s in the air, which react with sunlight to create tropospheric ozone. Ozone is a well-documented health threat. All I’m saying is, use an electric one or a rake or a broom.
    I question your assertion that the electric ones don’t have enough power. They do. And again, power to do what? How much force do you need to blow the detritus out of your gutters? As for your concern that cords don’t go with ladders, I have a suggestion. Either don’t trip over your cord, or, since you’re going to be up there anyway, use your hands and scoop the crap out. I don’t want to hear your blower three blocks away, no matter the “convenience” to you.
    Since I can’t ignore an offhand verbal barb, I must tell you that I have indeed worn out a shovel or two on snow. My back is still intact.
    Sounds like you have some good information. How about sending me an email at and we can sit down with the facts and figures we’ve gathered and discuss this?

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