"Ban Leafblowers And Save Our Town"

How can noisy machines help clean the world, when noise itself is a form of filth?--Ashleigh Brilliant, BLAST "leader by default"

On the evening of the Santa Barbara municipal elections, self-described BLAST "leader by default"Ashleigh Brilliant paraded about the election station. Brilliant was armed with a push broom and a victory statement reinforcing Santa Barbara's disgust for "the noise, dirt, and pollution of a device which should never have been permitted in our city in the first place." Finally, three tries at a referendum and fifteen years of work to ban leafblowers won out for Brilliant and his coalition. According to Brilliant, leafblowers are "...the least justifiable and most obnoxious technological monstrosity I can think of. And it's not really a leaf blower, it's a dirt blower. I mean, how many fallen leaves do we have to deal with?"

"A ban is a very easy law to understand", he says. "You just can't do it at all with that machine." Before the ban was in effect, Brilliant resorted to self-help measures, once physically removing the leafblower from a nearby gardener's back. One year later, Brilliant grabbed the leafblower from the gardener and repeatedly smashed it to the ground, but only after begging the gardener on bended knee to stop using the blower.

It is no surprise that forty cities in California alone, and over three hundred cities nationwide, have banned leafblowers. There are as many ways to describe the noise that leafblowers emit as there are people who are disturbed by them. From fifty feet, gas-powered leafblowers create up to 70 decibels of noise. Most would identify with the high grinding whine we know so well, not to mention other environmental hazards created by leafblowers such as exhaust fumes and swirling clouds of airborne debris.

Leafblowers grew in popularity since the 1970's. Santa Barbara has "regulated" leafblowers for the past ten years, but the city still suffered with lack of enforcement and regulations that were not restricitve enough. At one time the city tightened existing regulations, but to no avail. BLAST was formed in February 1997, and fifty unpaid volunteers collected more than nine thousand signatures asking to put the issue on the ballot in November of 1997. In early November, 54.5 percent of voters elected to place a total ban on all leafblowers within the Santa Barbara city limits.

Some of the resources that BLAST used to quiet the neighborhoods include an official "ballot argument" stating BLAST's position, bumper sticker, an "initiative measure" containing the ordinance purpose, summary and language; and the "notice of intent" to circulate the initiative petition, containing a statement of the reasons for the ban. To view these items, click on the links from each phrase.

BLAST's pre-election opposition came in the form of the City Parks and Recreation Department, professional gardeners and landscapers, garden supply shops, and one of the nation's leading leafblower manufacturers. They formed a coalition to oppose the ban called CORE: Citizens Opposed To Radical Enactments. These parties claim that irresponsible leafblower users are the problem, and recent market innovations include leafblowers that are half as loud as the former machines. They raised more than $10,000 to further their opposition, while BLAST's campaign was so low-budget that they did not reach the threshold requiring that they report their spending. CORE members claimed that owners of commercial and office buildings will be hit hardest, where leafblowers are used on a grand scale to clean parking lots and walkways.

Money is also a consideration, with leafblower advocates claiming that leafblowers save a great deal of time and labor and contribute to the appearance of the city. Brilliant counters this by stating that if all gardeners have to compete under the same restrictive regulations, nobody will have a competitive advantage. Also, "cleanliness" has gotten out of control-- what about the need for a natural setting? Brilliant believes that it is not a matter of right and wrong: "Our opponents are just as interested in a beautiful city as we are. It's just that they have a more narrow vision of that beauty."

The ban takes effect in February of 1998, although the City Parks and Recreation Department stopped using the machines shortly after the election, beginning a process of major change for the City of Santa Barbara.

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