Sonoma’s ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers, Measure V on the November ballot, took effect December 22. The Sun recently asked people around town how they’ve adapted.
It was clear people welcome the newfound quiet, and are pleased with the compliance. On the other hand, some landscapers complained about buying a battery blower. They felt it wasn’t as powerful, but conceded it was quieter and lighter.
Several of the people interviewed asked to remain anonymous, testimony to the controversial nature of this issue.
A couple living in a mixed-use zone were surprised to hear gas-powered leaf vacuums in a neighboring parking lot after the ban went into effect. They contacted the city’s Code Enforcement Officer, who clarified to the worker that these machines are included in the ban. A woman in another mixed-use zone said gardeners at her apartment complex were using gas blowers after the ban. She contacted her landlord, who said he would not comply with the new law, so she called Code Enforcement.
One Sonoma-based landscaper said that while he had voted against Measure V (though his wife voted for it), many of the arguments for a ban that had seemed far-fetched made sense to him now. He hadn’t thought much before about the noise and exhaust. He added that he had always encouraged clients to leave more leaves as compost and mulch, but many didn’t want to. He hoped they would be receptive now, as it would save time.
A gardener raking leaves in Armstrong Estates said regretfully that he had just purchased a battery blower. He did not know how much he might save now on fuel. In broken English, he said some jobs would take longer, but he didn’t think homeowners would pay more. When asked if he would mulch more leaves, he said no, he was still buying mulch and fertilizer. Whether that was his preference or the homeowner’s was unclear.
Adam, a contractor who works in Sonoma, said he “hates gas leaf blowers,” because they’re too loud and smell horrible. He thinks every town should ban them. He felt that, though not as powerful, the battery ones work fine. He pointed out that lithium ion batteries are superior to anything available even five years ago — they last longer and can be recycled.
A homeowner near the Plaza said he purchased a battery blower for his gardeners to use on his property. He also said he was interested in starting to compost leaves to replenish the soil. A west side homeowner said he rarely used the gas leaf blower he owns, and said the ban was not a problem for him. In fact he and his wife voted for it. “I can easily use a broom and rake,” he said. “Since it helps the environment, I’m all for it. We all need to do our part.” At his place of work, a battery blower was in use even before the ban, to avoid disturbing customers.
Lawrence, a retired businessman on the east side, marveled at the increased quiet at home since neighbors switched from gas to electric blowers. “It seems like it’s a third of the decibels.” Marilyn, a mom who resides near the high school, said she asked her gardener last year to switch to rakes and brooms, and requested that he leave more leaves under shrubs. “He didn’t spend more time and didn’t charge more,” she said. Her husband, who works from his home office, was relieved to be able to concentrate better.
Another man who works from home, on the east side, said he was more productive without the daily interruptions of gas leaf blowers. “The electric ones are not as distracting, and they also don’t seem to use them as much. I see a lot more raking and sweeping.”
A west side homeowner “immediately noticed my neighborhood and the town are a lot quieter.” He sees more rakes and brooms in use, and some battery blowers. He noted that his neighborhood was still very tidy. “When driving,” he added, “I don’t have to dodge anyone blowing leaves in the street,” a practice that is now against the law.
A man with an office on the Plaza noted that he used to consider leaf blower noise unavoidable. “Once I became aware of the possibility of eliminating it, I realized how often I was inconvenienced,” maybe ending a phone conversation, or crossing the street to avoid the blower. He also became aware of the health impacts. “Imagine standing in all that dust and noise.” After Measure V passed he noticed guys “happily raking.”
A dog walker said she and her canine companions walked through much less dust and noise now, as more people raked. She said even when there is a leaf blower “It’s so much quieter, and there are no fumes. It still blows up some dust, but much less.”
Sonoma was the twenty-fifth California city to enact a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, and one of hundreds nationwide. Many other communities are taking a hard look at gas blowers and seeking to ban them too. Though the issue is controversial, ultimately environmental and noise concerns combined with improved battery technology will prompt a review of gas leaf blowers for some time to come.
— Sun staff report