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(and a little Humor)

Click below for information on:

The Leaf Blower Particulate Game (do we want to think about what "particulates" really mean?)

Race, Class and Leaf Blowers (a brief essay)

Good Neighbor Gardening (testimony to the Environmental Commission)

A Letter to Adrian Alvarez (Alvarez is the spokesperson for the Association of Latin American Gardeners of Los Angeles, a group who maintains that a ban on leaf blowers will put gardeners out of business)

A letter from Steven Dailey (Dailey is principal of SDA - Landscape Architecture, Planning and Urban Design)

SB 1651 (a statewide bill to ban leaf blower bans)

SB 14 (A voting record on SB 14, a bill to ban leaf blower bans)

The Leaf Blower Particulate Game

Contributed by Del Tura

Many scientific studies of pollution involve painstaking sample-taking, microscopic analysis, and chemical testing. Another way to ascertain what is in the cloud of dirt a leaf blower raises (and we are all obliged to breathe) is to think back to everything you have ever seen on a sidewalk or lawn, in a gutter, or behind some bushes. Every group of people will have different lists of things they have seen. Each person in turn can think of something and describe what kind of particles might ultimately find their way into a leaf blower's cloud of dirt.

The first person might think of a dead pigeon in the gutter and go on to describe it being parked on by cars in the hot summer months and finally becoming flat and dried whereupon tiny flakes of dried skin, feather, bone, and beak (not to mention viscera) come available to be part of the dust cloud. The second person might think of snail trails, droppings, and the snail himself crushed underfoot and dried on the sidewalk. The third person might think of the exhaust from the two-cycle leaf blower combined with the exhaust from every other engine whose exhaust (a small representation) has chanced to settle in the sample area. The fourth person is likely to bring up dog dropping he has seen. There is always someone like this in a group but his point is valid. The fifth person, eager for a different image, will think of broken glass ground to dust and blown into the air along with the residue of whatever the glass container contained.

While each participant may score with a more disgusting, creative, or technical suggestion, the list of things that can be in the leaf blower cloud grows. Each dust cloud does not contain all of these things because each cloud is whipped up from a recipe dictated by the leftovers available in the given sample area.

A caution for those who think they have a complete list of ingredients in the recipe for their neighborhood. Just when you think you know what is penetrating deep into your sinus cavities and bronchial tubes you may cough and spit on the sidewalk and change the recipe for the next week. And did you think what might have become of the roaches you neighbor's kids sprayed with Raid and smashed with bricks? I thought not.


Race, Class, and Leaf Blowers

Written by Julie Kelts for Because People Matter

March 24, 1998

You wouldn't know it from what's happening in Sacramento, but 20 California cities have banned gasoline-powered leaf blowers. The trend began over 20 years ago in Carmel in 1975. Activity picked up around 1990 when a number of cities banned blowers. Now the pace is once again accelerating and extending to larger cities with the 1997 vote of the Los Angeles City Council, the 1997 popular vote in Santa Barbara, and the 1998 Council vote in Menlo Park. Recently a new element has been added to the debate as gardeners, and specifically Latin American gardeners, organize to oppose these bans and accuse ban proponents of racism and elitism.

I think they're wrong. First of all, anyone who attended Sacramento's Environmental Commission or City Council committee meetings where this subject was discussed could see that ban proponents were not members of some elite class. Many of the most ardent ban supporters are people of low or average incomes, including residents of the central city or of modest neighborhoods bordering large commercial properties. If wealthy people tend to be opposed to blowers (and they have rights too!) it is because they are particularly subject to blower noise in their neighborhoods where the rate of commercial lawn maintenance is so high. For the rest of us, blower noise is just as likely to be inflicted by maintenance of apartment buildings, business properties, or public areas such as parks and government buildings.

Those of us who want blowers banned believe they are bad for everyone, including the operators, who after all are closest the noise, dust, and exhaust. In fact, they are the only ones at risk for hearing loss in addition to the irritation we all feel. So why do they so vehemently insist on the right to lousy working conditions? In part it's probably the same resistance to change that all of us exhibit in all sorts of situations. But they also fear working harder for less money, or losing their jobs.

Again, I think they're wrong. I and other members of Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento called 14 of the 20 cities with blower bans to see how they were working, and we heard no reports of gardeners losing their jobs. How can a labor-saving device preserve jobs anyway?

There doesn't seem to be a lot of communication between customers and gardeners, and I don't think it's because of some purported language barrier. I know gardeners who are willing to work without blowers but no one has ever asked them to. I have talked to people who sincerely wish their own gardeners would refrain from blowing, but are afraid to ask them.

There has to be some middle ground here. Customers need to speak to their gardeners about not blowing, and perhaps be prepared to pay a modestly higher fee. And why not? Having someone else do your yard work is a luxury in the first place, so why not go first-class and show some consideration for your neighbors at the same time? As an alternative to paying more, customers and their gardeners can negotiate a different standard of care. For example, there is no good reason to blow every single leaf out of a flower bed. Most gardeners know this is not good for the plants, but they think their customers demand it.

Of course, there will always be some gardeners who flatly refuse to work without blowers. And there will always be some customers who consider it their right to pay dirt-cheap prices for chores they consider too menial to do themselves. That is the true racism and elitism involved in the blower debate. The rest of us can solve our problems cooperatively. That will serve the interests of gardeners, neighborhoods, clean air, and civility.


Good Neighbor Gardening

Written by Eve Robida (testimony to Environmental Commission)

Leaf blower use and the controversy it generates signal several underlying problems: ecological ignorance, careless landscape design, arrogance toward hired gardeners, and lack of respect for neighbors' health and privacy. Such complex problems will not be solved by legislation alone. Yet legislation is imperative. Beware the laments of blower users and manufacturers. Their arguments are as outdated as the smokers who whimper that to smoke outdoors is unbearable. A ban will press everyone to get on with healthy alternatives.

For example, creative design options are abundant. Thoughtful placement of trees, shrubs, and sun or shade tolerant perennials can produce lovely low-maintenance landscapes. Simply replacing lawns with groundcovers whose woody undergrowth enjoys a leaf mulch is increasingly popular. This one design change allows less frequent cleanup, lowering maintenance costs, and thereby making maintenance services attractive to a wider market. A sensible approach to gardening need mean no economic loss to anyone. People who cry that without blowers they can't afford a perfect yard ignore the price to others of their cosmetic whim. We should not have to subsidize their horticultural fashion statement with our health!

Many property owners hire gardeners and expect superhuman results. This reflects a customary devaluation of so-called unskilled labor. Treated as such, a gardener's only defense is to toil at a frantic pace by any means necessary to compensate for the low wages. By relaxing standards and/or switching to more "leaf friendly" landscapes, clients could continue to pay the same monthly fee, yet accept less frequent grooming. In turn gardeners could afford to serve in a health-conscious manner. Any temporary crisis induced by the ban will foster communication and force clients to face their responsibilities to workers, neighbors, and nature.

Leaf blower use is always an unfriendly, unneighborly act. Merely restricting hours of use is inappropriate in residential areas. Not everyone works away from home on a nine to five basis. Consider home workers such as writers and computer commuters, parents with infants, convalescing elderly especially those with respiratory illness, night workers such as police and medical personnel. Even weekday workers deserve a peaceful weekend. The stress caused by industrial strength noise and pollution means increased medical costs, reduced productivity, and destruction of the protective emotional atmosphere that only a home can provide.

Whether you call it common courtesy or social responsibility, a neighborly approach to yard upkeep is sensitive to basic needs for clean air, peace, and quiet. Accordingly it rejects leaf blowers.


April 21, 1998

Adrian Alvarez
Association of Latin American Gardeners of Los Angeles
6440 Bellingham Avenue, Suite 191
North Hollywood, CA 91606

Dear Mr. Alvarez,

I am writing to you as a gardener, the daughter of a trade union organizer, and a member of Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento which is pursuing a ban against leaf blowers in the City of Sacramento.

As a gardener I work without power tools. I would not subject myself, my plants, my pets, or my neighbors to the negative impacts of leaf blowers. Nevertheless, I am relentlessly bombarded by the noise, dust, and fumes from people who use them.

As my father's daughter I was introduced to labor unions when I was a child. In the intervening years I have never come across an organization for working men and women that purported to maintain the status quo. Your Association of Latin American Gardeners is the first. To advocate that gardeners work as fast as possible with leaf blowers that adversely affect their health and to argue that raising costs for a more professional and careful service is not an option is misguided at best and negligent at worst.

Citizens for a Quieter Sacramento want leaf blowers banned in the City of Sacramento so that we do not have to wake up every morning and face another day in which any activity we plan, indoors or outdoors, is likely to be accompanied by the unwelcome presence of a leaf blower. Being a major participant in this debate, you have been exposed to all of the arguments against leaf blowers, so I won't repeat them.

Let me just ask you, however, to think for a moment of a day in your life when things aren't going well and you need to be alone with your thoughts. Because your neighbors are cleaning their yard that day, you cannot hear yourself think at home. So, you decide to take a walk and are unable to escape blowers all along your way. Or it's a happy day, your favorite niece is having a birthday and you're planning a backyard party. Your family is there, the party starts, and your neighbors' gardeners arrive. You are invisible to them on the other side of the fence but your day is ruined and your air has become foul as well. There has to be a reasonable alternative to this!

You were recently quoted by Wade Graham as having said that the issue for you is not leaf blowers but access to the democratic process. Let me reassure you that for us the issue is leaf blowers. As for participating in the democratic process, according to accounts in the press your entry into the Los Angeles debate seemed more like an end run. After years of discussions, votes, and a yearlong delay of implementation to address gardeners' concerns, the day the City began to enforce the ban both a lawsuit and SB 1651 were introduced on your behalf in defiance of public sentiment.

My concern is this. If SB 1651 passes and we have to live with leaf blowers, the ill will being created in this debate will not encourage leaf blower operators to work as sensitively as possible. Conversely, if we are successful in defeating SB 1651, the bad blood flowing from both sides will continue to spill into other areas with consequences potentially more negative than living with leaf blowers. Sometimes we unleash forces that take on a life of their own, and I would hate to see that happen here if the forces are divisive and not cooperative.

In all of the debate not one unemployed gardener has emerged because of a ban that was put into place. I also cannot accept the argument that gardening costs cannot go up. Why can't they? Everything I have to pay for has no trouble going up. Why are gardeners' rates sacrosanct? Your organization claims that rich people, especially, don't want to pay more. That is a poor reason, if true, and in any case, untested in the marketplace. Gardeners are justified in asking for increased rates if and when they increase their services or the time it takes to perform them.

The gardeners you represent are mostly strong, proud, humble young men willing to work hard and sacrifice for their families. As do all young people everywhere, they think they are invincible and warnings about the negative health effects of working with leaf blowers wash right over them. You are doing them a disservice trading their future health for whatever short term gains are involved in winning this fight. To convince urban gardeners that it is their God given right to work with leaf blowers is akin to the United Farm Workers demanding the retention of the short handled hoe and DDT in their day.

I had intended to testify at the hearing on SB1651 in the Business and Professions Committee but the atmosphere was so charged that I decided my comments would not be received in the spirit I intended them. I am, therefore, writing to you directly in the hope of beginning communication that can lead us to a more satisfactory resolution of this issue. Citizens and gardeners ought to be working together to ban leaf blowers. Only then will the manufacturers and distributors have the incentive to develop a new generation of gardening aides which they can sell and which will truly be a benefit to gardeners and the public alike.

Let's elevate the level of the yard maintenance industry from mow, blow, and go, necessitating cleaning twenty yards a day, to a quality gardening service with fewer clients and better pay. This approach will benefit everyone. We can all win.


Judy Michalowski
P.O. Box 160403
Sacramento, CA 95816-0403

-- to learn more about the debate between leaf blower opponents and the Association of Latin American Gardeners of Los Angeles, search NPC Noise News using the keywords "Association of Latin American Gardeners of Los Angeles." --


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