Do You Support a Ban on Leaf-Blowers?

Businesses say they are a must for keeping yards clean. What do you think?

A backpack leaf blower. Photo courtesy WikiMedia Commons.
A backpack leaf blower. Photo courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

by Jillian Steinberger

Gardens aren’t front of mind in winter, but in Santa Cruz the grass grows even faster with the rains, and brigades of “mow blow and go” teams are out doing battle. Their weapons are gas-powered leaf-blowers and other power tools. To them, brooms and rakes are for grannies.

 Now citizens are debating the pros and cons of leaf-blowers, following bans and restrictions around the state from Sacramento to Los Angeles, and from Palo Alto to Beverly Hills. The group behind this is the independent Santa Cruz Leaf-Blower Pollution Task Force. Their goal is not an outright ban, but to gauge attitudes, and promote awareness, by asking citizens to fill out a 10-question “Leaf Blower Survey” (surveymonkey.com/s/2N9CWMV).

 To date, over 500 residents have taken the survey which asks questions like, “In your opinion, how effective are leaf blowers?” and “Which of the following possible hazards are you aware of or cause you concern?”

 Consumer-grade leaf-blowers emit more pollutants than a 6,000-pound 2011 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor truck, according to car experts Edmunds.com, which has conducted extensive tests. The human and environmental impact includes high decibel noise pollution and carbon dioxide pollution. Gas-powered blowers send large amounts of particulate matter into the air that may contain pesticides, dog feces, molds, pollen, and heavy metals like lead and cadmium.

“I suffer from asthma and it drives me crazy,” says Santa Cruz resident Jessica Rumwell, a caregiver at Hope Services. She says her neighbor’s gardener blows debris into her yard.

 Says task force member Catharine Gunderson, a resident of the Seabright neighborhood and a former schoolteacher, "There is an ever-increasing onslaught on peace at my home over the last few years from the blasting noise.” She describes seeing gardeners blow wet leaves into city storm sewers after rains, clogging them – a problem for city managers who must comply with strict storm water regulations to help prevent acidification of the ocean.

A controversial issue But some local landscape contractors, such as Phil Roberson, owner of Aloha Landscape, say their businesses could collapse without blowers since it takes more time using rakes and brooms, resulting in higher prices for customers. The California Landscape Contractors Association backs up landscapers like Roberson.

They state on their website: “Most landscape industry estimates suggest that it takes at least five times as long to clean a typical landscape site with a broom and rake than it does with a power leaf blower.”

Task force founder Ken Foster, owner of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping, in business for over 25 years and a West Side resident, says “I used gas-powered tools for many years, so I understand how many landscapers and gardeners feel.”

However, he disputes that they are time-saving. Foster has performed tests where employees blow a landscape for 10 minutes, and then toss the collected debris back onto the landscape, identically. Then they sweep for 10 minutes. The tests have shown that a physically fit worker can sweep effectively taking about the same amount of time. This is healthier for employees who do not breathe fumes, get exercise, and are free from the ergonomic discomfort of carrying a heavy backpack.

 Ultimately, says organizer Roxanne Evans, founder of the TerraGnoma Community Demonstration Garden, the group seeks to empower the community to solve the problem with a fair and level headed approach. “Education is emerging as the leverage point in addressing this issue,” she says.

 The dominant aesthetic for California gardens – which fuels the mow blow and go industry – is lush green lawns surrounded by shorn hedges, and no leaf litter. Landscape water frequently makes up 70% of a household’s total water use, according to the Bay-Friendly Coalition – and the type of landscape described above tends to be the worst water abuser.

 However, plants drop leaves for a reason. In this natural process, leaf matter breaks down and feeds worms and other organisms, which builds soil. According to an article in the Latin Post  (Sept. 12, 2013), leaf blowers are “utilized by many misguided yard keepers to rid flower or garden beds of plant and organic matter – an odd practice considering said matter serves to nurture most gardens as natural fertilizer.”

 As times change, so do aesthetics, house by house, block by block, supported by public agencies. To conserve water, many California water districts encourage drought tolerant landscapes with “Lose your Lawn” programs, which pay property owners up to $1 per square foot to mulch over their lawns and install drought tolerant plants. Such landscapes can incorporate leaf litter attractively.

For more information, find the Leaf Blower Pollution Task Force Santa Cruz on Facebook.com.

John Bradley December 17, 2013 at 02:16 PM
I am for a 100% ban on leaf blowers. They are one of the curses of urban life. They are the banshees of suburbia and a bane to the environment. At minimum, they should be subject to strict limits re air pollution and noise pollution. Anyway, 90% of the time, they just move leaves and things around - as in, into my yard or public streets. When I was a boy, enterprising. kids made a little pocket money raking leaves for householders and small businesses who found raking an odious chore. Yup, neither I nor most of my friends got an allowance; we mowed lawns, raked leaves, delivered newspapers, washed cars and baby-sat. Not because we were deprived but because we were fortunate.
Dave Danger December 17, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Well John, all those people who didn't like that time-consuming chore hired you....because the blower hadn't been invented yet! The real problem with them is the person running the blower. Pisses me off as I drive down the street and some......O.K. I'll say it.....Mexican is blowing a sidewalk off DIRECTLY AT MY PASSING CAR! Idiot! Rocks, dirt, leaves, a huge dust cloud blowing through my windows that I'm desperately trying to roll up. Now to pacify all you OUTRAGED readers. Oh my, yes...OUTRAGED! In this LaLaLand of "political correctness" it is VERBOTEN to say the truth (oh my, does having said THAT word make me anti-semitic, as well?). And in this case, the truth IS that all those landscapers only hire Mexicans. Remember folks, when you are color-blind, at the end of the day it means....you're just blind.
Bryan Dustin K December 18, 2013 at 12:48 AM
I think leaf-blowers are one of the most unnecessary devices ever invented. They turn a silent, meditative job into a horrendously loud polluting pain. And they do this without asking those around - ever. A tool of Satan, a diabolical device that serves no purpose - other then to annoy and pollute. I hear and see them working on parking lots for hours - so please don't call it a time-saving device. Those guys work by the hour anyway, they don't care about saving time. I am not a violent person but I honestly have imagined, on several occasions, walking over to one of them and knocking 'em upside the head. The sound stays in the brain long after the work has stopped. But do they care? Obviously not. I am incredulous that we allow this in our society. I dream of a day when leaf blowers are a thing of the past. I really dream of a day when sound becomes sacred once again and we all wake up from this industrial din. There is so much unnecessary noise - much of it from two stroke engines and most of it from men. Guys - quiet the F#$% down. Pay attention to the world around you, and maybe think, is what I am about to do going to adversely affect those around me. If so, figure out a better solution! There is one - it just takes a little effort.
Pat Kittle December 18, 2013 at 01:54 AM
Years ago Palo Alto tried to ban leaf blowers and the Latino Leaf-Blowers League or some such noble group screamed "Racism!" And indeed it was! What other motive could someone possibly have for opposing leaf-blowers?
Curtis Swain December 18, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Horrible noise and dust. I work at night, and sleep in the morning (or attempt to). What's the one thing that wakes me up before I've had enough rest? Not cars, not barking dogs, not screaming kids...leaf blowers!
Tim Brattan December 18, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Ban them, and jet skis and snowmobiles while you're at it.
Chris Korbein December 18, 2013 at 02:51 PM
My problem with the dust blowers is just that. My parents that i help take care of, have both neighbors next door on both sides of their house use landscapers that use them. I have countless times watched them blow the debris on the folks side. I talk to them and to put it bluntly they could care less. I'm in favor of doing a job right not just blowing the crap from one spot to another. When i worked construction they were very helpfull ,but not with neighbors next to it. Ive watched my own neighbors blow their yard clean by blowing it in their neighbors lot. So what do you do without going agro??
Pat Kittle December 18, 2013 at 04:02 PM
The bottom line is simply this: leaf blowers stimulate the economy, as more & more people acquire them to blow dried poop & whatnot back & forth among each other. All this whining about leaf blowers is nothing more than high-minded selfishness.
Chris Korbein December 18, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Sorry that i left a comment, i didn't know people would be name calling.
ken Foster December 18, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Pat, There are a whole slew of negative impacts from Leaf BLowers. Neighbors, home bound people, night workers (who sleep in the day), children with Asthma that have to deal with the high minded selfishness of businesses that won't take the time to learn how to operate leaf blowers so they have the least impact possible. Assuming it is okay to destroy the 'soundscape' in the vain pursuit of the perfect landscape is selfish. Burning oil with gas as two stroke leaf blowers do is an example of the most inefficient engine blowing fecal matter, fungus and pesticides into the air we breathe. All the task force is saying is as a community we can learn how to reduce the impact of this easy to miss-use piece of equipment. It is okay to stand up for peace and quite people.
Pat Kittle December 19, 2013 at 05:02 AM
Ken, thanks, but I know all that. My point is that no matter what our concerns or motives are, some people will play the Race Card.
Jillian Steinberger December 19, 2013 at 12:31 PM
As the writer of this article, I don't see race playing into it. In fact, there was a quote in my article from the "Latin Post" saying how they are misused. Caucasians still dominate when it comes to who owns leaf-blowers, who uses them, or who directs employees to use them.
Dave Robbins December 19, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Pat, It seems that you and Dave D. are the only ones playing the race card here. I have no idea how you feel about leaf blowers but I know how you feel about Latinos.
Pat Kittle December 19, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Unwelcome facts are still facts. Show me where I'm wrong and I'll apologize. Otherwise I accept your apology for attempted slander.
L.J. CoffeeHead December 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM
It doesn't matter what ethnicity the operator of a leaf blower is. They are terrible tools when used without common sense.
ken Foster December 20, 2013 at 11:10 AM
It is not high mind selfishness to simply offer a survey gathering information about perceptions regarding leaf blowers. We will look at the results and put an action plan together accordingly. The task force believes something can be done to reduce the negative impacts of leaf blowers in our community. Please do take the survey!
Pat Kittle December 20, 2013 at 01:07 PM
Ken, you do realize that "high-minded selfishness" was satire, right?
Pat Kittle December 20, 2013 at 01:13 PM
Jillian, you say you "don't see race playing into it" even as you referenced a race-based interest-group ("Latin Post") on leaf-blowers. I too referenced a Latin race-based interest group on leaf-blowers. OK for you, not for me?
Chris Korbein December 20, 2013 at 07:19 PM
L.J. said it best, Its a simple fact they are problem when not used right. We are talking about weed blowers right? How did it turn into a mud throwing contest. Happy holidays everybody.
ken Foster December 20, 2013 at 07:31 PM
I'm with you. Let's all stop blowing a bunch of hot air. Take the survey and watch out for those Polluting Noise Bazooka's. :) Here's a little light reading... http://www.terranovalandscaping.com/blog/2012/06/26/a-sustainable-alternative-to-power-leaf-blowers/ Cheers!
ken Foster December 20, 2013 at 07:54 PM
See the Leaf Blower Survey 'workshop' on Civinomics here... https://civinomics.com/workshop/4QxD/leaf-blower-survey


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