Leaf Blower Ban Proposed for Sebastopol
Restrict Leaf Blowers
By Shepherd Bliss
I appreciate the Sebastopol City Council for discussing a leaf blower ban, which it was scheduled to do at its Jan. 5 public meeting. Since Carmel banned them in 1975, nearly 35 years ago, many California and U.S. cities have limited leaf blowers, including Santa Monica, Mill Valley, Tiburon, and Los Angeles. Millions living in small to large communities are protected from chronic leaf blowing, but not the some 8000 human souls in our sweet, sometimes peaceful, small town of Sebastopol. We lag behind.
Councilmember Guy Wilson, now Vice Mayor, put the idea of a ban--in response to residents complaining to him--on the Nov. 17 Council agenda. A music teacher approached him, because she could not teach while blowers were being used. Another resident works at night and needs to sleep during the day. Someone else wanted to meditate without the interruption. “For centuries societies operated well without leaf blowers. I don’t get why we need them,” Wilson noted.
Some spoke in favor a ban, whereas a smaller number opposed it. Leaf blowers upset many people; others dismiss their damage and marginalize the issue. During December more residents spoke to the Council to support a ban. Among those testifying were a downtown homeowner who lived in Palo Alto when that city banned leaf blowers and a real estate agent with customers who come to Sebastopol seeking peace and quiet, which leaf blowers destroy. If you want your opinion on this matter heard, you can attend the Jan. 5 and/or Jan. 19 Council meetings in the Youth Annex next to the Sebastopol Community Center on Morris Street, starting at 6 p.m.
Costs Outweigh Benefits
Fallen leaves are part of nature’s cycle. A blanket of leaves on the ground can be lovely. By disturbing leaves we harm the ecosystem, including air quality, and provoke more chaotic climate change. While on trees they beautify and transform light into oxygen. When they fall they become mulch, then compost, and eventually topsoil.
The multiple costs of leaf blowers to the environment and people far outweigh their few benefits. They spew toxins into the air and create health problems. This article focuses on noise pollution. “The high-pitched noise of leaf blowers drives me and others crazy,” testified downtown homeowner Nancy Hubert before the Council.
I have researched the health hazards of loud noise for over 25 years now. In l985 Penguin Books published my chapter “Sound Pollution” in the best-selling “New Holistic Health Handbook.” My chapter “Sound Shy” appeared in the award-winning book “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace.” (www.vowvop.org).
Some can tolerate the loud noise of leaf blowers. It annoys others. I am one of those, including other military veterans, whose nervous system is sensitive to loud sounds, leading to either a flight or fight response. My typical response has been to flee the sound, even when it invades my home, pushing me away from sleep, eating, studying, working, listening to music, conversing with friends, and other home-based activities. I am now ready to actively advocate a more peaceful and serene Sebastopol free of leaf blower threats.
Taking the Lead in Sonoma County
Sebastopol could join the many other communities who protect their residents from the health hazards of leaf blowers, thus being the first city in Sonoma County to do so. We could take leadership on this matter, helping educate people about noise contamination. I do not like the idea of more regulations, but this is a situation where we need protection.
“I had an award-winning landscaping business in Santa Barbara,” Jeff Snook explained in an interview. He now farms in the Sebastopol countryside. “I used a leaf blower professionally. It can be an effective tool, but they are grossly over-used. I came to hate them because of the damage they do to the user, plants, wildlife, and neighbors. I eventually stopped using blowers. This got me some business. It is an unnecessary machine and harmful to the garden. Brooms and rakes can be faster and cheaper in residential areas. Broom don’t blow.”
Snook explained that some landscapers in Santa Barbara “complained that they would be put out of business by a ban. That did not happen.” Others supported the ban. They helped set up a Green Gardeners Program that provided incentives to landscapers to quit the leaf blower habit. They could take a workshop, get certified as a green landscaper, and the City supported them in ways such as by putting them on their website.
“Fear of change is the main obstacle here,” Snook contended. “Landscapers are not the problem. The problem is the machine. Fortunately, with brooms and rakes, we have good alternatives. We need to re-train landscapers, gardeners, and homeowners. Landscapers using leaf blowers were once seen as a problem in Santa Barbara, but when they supported the ban it made them look good and they became heroes to some.”
“The air out of a leaf blower travels at more than one hundred miles an hour,” Snook explained. “Small particles are shot at plants and insects. This absorbs water. It kicks up dust that clogs the breathing of plants. The dust settles on leaves, clouding the sun. They are abusive to plants. They take topsoil off and plug pores on the surface, damaging water recharge. Leaf blowers are not good for gardens.”
More than leaves get blown. Among the many unintended tiny victims are bees. The mysterious colony collapse phenomenon took the lives of 29% of U.S. beehives last winter. Bees add an estimated $15 billion a year to U.S. agriculture by pollinating fruit, nuts, and vegetables. Leaf blowers have far more hidden costs than financial benefits.
Second hand cigarette smoke harms. You do not need to smoke to be hurt; you merely need to be near someone smoking. Leaf blower noise also damages. Smoking and leaf blowing are public health hazards. No one has the right to blow smoke in my face. Nor do they have the right to blow loud noise into my ears.
Harmful Noise Pollution
I concentrate on leaf blowers here for several reasons and do not propose limiting lawn mowers, chain saws or other garden tools. They are not as damaging as the high-pitched whine of blowers that disturb the ecosystem. Leaf blowers also have effective, quiet alternatives--brooms and rakes.
The health hazards of loud noises are documented at www.nonoise.org. Among them are the following: hearing loss, greater risk of heart attacks, damage to the endocrine system and stomach, depressed immunity, increased adrenaline, change in heart rate, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, social discord, impaired communication, heightened social conflicts, and increased psychological, social and emotional problems.
“Leaf blowers are a weapon of mass destruction,” contended one Sebastopudlian.
An information and education campaign that increases public awareness regarding leaf blowers would be helpful. This would further the environmental goals that Sebastopol contends that it follows and promote the safety of its citizens and its local economy, especially with respect to the growing eco-tourism industry.
Sebastopol could use a carefully-worded ordinance that focuses only on leaf blower use within residential areas, rather than commercial areas. We need to take the time to discuss this matter, rather than rush to a weak ordinance.
Leaves are a vital part of the ecosystem. My farm gladly receives bagged leaves that are unwanted and provide a place for them to rest in peace, thus feeding the soil that nourishes our boysenberries and apples.
Sebastopol prides itself as a green city and promotes eco-tourism. This sentiment should be expressed in a restriction on leaf blowers, which can certainly not be considered environmentally friendly.
(Shepherd Bliss, email@example.com, has run the organic Kokopelli Farm for most of the last 20 years and currently teaches part-time at Sonoma State University.)