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"Good Neighbors Keep Their Noise to Themselves."

Action Alert


A Bill To Ban Leaf Blower Bans

If you live in California, your right to peace and quiet, to clean air, and to democratic, local control of your environment is at risk. SB1651, recently introduced into the California State Senate by Senator Richard Polanco, would prohibit California cities or counties from banning gasoline-powered leaf blowers, reversing overnight the victories that activists in nearly 20 California cities spent years of their lives achieving. We should all oppose this bill, for several reason:

We need leaf blower bans because noise limits don't work. The bill would set a statewide limit on commercial gas blowers of 65 decibels at 50 feet, but leave homeowners free to use louder machines. This is the same limit that has been found unsatisfactory and unworkable in many California cities including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Sacramento.

There is no evidence that industry would meet the 65-decibel standard. Certification of the noise level by the manufacturer, as provided by the bill, is a recipe for trouble. There is already a dispute between Echo (the largest manufacturer of blowers) and Consumers Union over the loudness of a recently introduced model.

65 decibels at 50 feet is still too loud. The noise would still be troublesome for those millions of Californians at home during the day, whether working, sleeping, retired, ill, very young, or trying to enjoy their days off. A limit on noise at 50 feet does not do enough to protect pedestrians, cyclists, or those with small properties. A limit that excludes private use (which according to the ARB accounts for 90 percent of all blowers) would not protect people in their homes or yards.

The serious issue of air pollution is not addressed by this bill. Leaf blower motors are inordinately large emitters of ozone precursors and particulate matter. A blower puts several pounds of dust into the air for each hour of use--dust which can include heavy metals, pesticides, animal feces, molds, and other allergens and toxins. Many cities, including Los Angeles, Claremont, and Santa Barbara, have banned blowers partly for air quality reasons.

This bill is not needed in order to protect the livelihoods of gardeners. There is no evidence that gardeners have lost their jobs in the 20 California cities that have banned blowers. In fact, gardeners may be hurt most of all by this bill, because they are the ones breathing in the dust and exposing their hearing to dangerous decibel levels.

Just as California exercises its right to make stricter environmental regulations than those imposed by the federal government, cities and counties should likewise have that opportunity.



Monday, May 5th, California communities determined to enact complete bans on noisy leaf blowers suffered a setback in the California State Senate's Business and Professions Committee, when the panel reversed itself from a previous decision and gave a 'green light' to legislation that would make 'complete bans' no longer an option in any California community. The bill is strongly backed by commercial gardeners and now heads for a second Senate 'policy' committee, Local Government, which will make a determination on whether it is proper for the state to intercede in such a matter.

Tuesday, May 6th, SB1651 was granted passage by the State Senate's Local Government Committee by a 5-2 vote. At Tuesday's hearing representatives from the same two opposing sides who attended the prior Business and Professions hearing, verbally sparred once again over the leaf blower issue. A coalition of opponents consisting of those against 'noise' from the powered leaf blowers, and those concerned about various forms of air pollution they cause, were ultimately unsuccessful against the coalition of proponents including commerical landscape gardeners and producers and marketers of the power leaf blower equipment. Amendments to the bill that helped clear the way for its committee passage would 'phase in', over a number of years, requirements that leaf blowers could not exceed 65 decibels in noise output. Opponents of the measure still contend that those who use the machines will find ways to exceed those noise limits in order to derive more power from the devices so they can work faster and service more clients in less time.

Normally legislation that has cleared 'policy' committees in the Senate must also be approved by a 'fiscal' committee which considers how costly any proposed new law may be, but, as in this case, the 'projected costs' will probably be sufficiently low enough that the measure will be granted a 'waiver' and sent directly to the floor of the State Senate for a vote, perhaps in just a week or two. Presuming the measure passes the State Senate, it will then go through an identical committee and floor vote process in the California Legislature's lower house, the Assembly. Any signifigant changes in the form of 'amendments' would force the legislation to, once again, be voted upon in the State Senate before it could go to the Governor. Most believe Governor Wilson would sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

To express your opposition to this bill, contact Senator Polanco at: State Capitol, Room 2193, Sacramento CA 95814, telephone (916) 445-3435, or e-mail him at Senator.Polanco@sen.ca.gov

To contact your own State Senator: If you don't know his/her name, consult the Senate's web site at www.sen.ca.gov or consult your local telephone directory (near the front of the yellow pages).

E-mail can be sent in the above format, replacing "Polanco" with your Senator's last name.


Click here to read SB 1651 in the NPC Law Library


Monday, April 13th, the California State Senate's Business and Professions Committee, chaired by State Senator Richard Polanco, heard SB1651. Acting chair Maurice Johannessen presiding over the hearing. Under the bill, in order for a complete ban in a local ordinance, it would have to receive voter approval, rather than be instituted by the local governing body. In addition, existing ordinances that had not been passed by a plebiscite, would have to be overturned and commercial users of power leaf blowers would have until the year 2000 to replace their noisy equipment with 'less noisy' equipment, certified to generate less than 65 db of noise. Those in favor of the Polanco measure, principally the Latin American Gardeners Association and other manufacturers and users of commercial leaf blower equipment, argued that total bans on leaf blowers made it difficult for gardeners to make a living and that some other types of lawn care equipment, not covered by the ban, such as 'vacuum' machines, actually exceed the 65db limit, and would not be affected by such arbitrary bans.

Those opposed to the Polanco bill said that 'catching' future leaf blowers that were not 'certified' would pose an enforcement nightmare and would turn any action by the state into a 'scofflaw'. They also disputed the claim that banning power leaf blowers would cause unemployment hardships for those in the commercial lawn care and gardening industry. One witness from the city of Los Altos noted that they had banned the equipment years ago and were having no problems getting their leaves cleared or with high unemployment amongst yard care gardeners. Some of the testimony from opponents of the bill was 'clouded' because witnesses got into the 'air pollution' issue of the power leaf blowers, and the chairman had to repeatedly insist that they return to the principle issue at hand, which was the NOISE factor.

After over an hour of testimony and debate, the committee, which was several members 'short', voted on the measure, which failed, by one vote, to get the necessary number of 'ayes' to pass. Sen. Polanco, as is customary, was granted 'reconsideration' which means he may bring the measure up again at the next meeting on Monday April 27. In the meantime, he and his supporters may also negotiate additional 'amendments', or 'changes' to his measure to 'win over' other members of the committee.


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