More than 30 years after the Los Altos City Council passed a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, their use persists. While environmentally minded residents tout the virtues of electric- and battery-powered alternatives, others say those alternatives have yet to match the affordability and efficiency of the noisy, air-polluting originals.
“We shouldn’t blame our gardeners and say they don’t want to change. They are just trying to make a living,” said Los Altos resident Anne Dumontier. “But right now, the electric alternative is not good enough and too expensive for professional blowers.”
The leaf blower dilemma continued as council members prepared Tuesday to discuss possible changes to bolster enforcement of the city’s gas leaf blower ban. Among the options were fining the homeowner for violations, fining a first-time offender, upping the amount of the fine and patrolling for violators instead of the current practice of a resident’s complaint triggering a visit. Tuesday’s meeting occurred after the Town Crier’s print deadline.
Months back, Dumontier and her neighbors raised money to purchase an electric leaf blower for their gardener. But it wasn’t long before the gardener was back to using gas.
In doing her research, Dumontier discovered leaf blower power and expense were major factors.
“Air speed makes a huge difference,” she said. “You can ask any gardener who has used both – they’ll tell you battery leaf blowers are not as powerful. They might be powerful enough for some gardens, most of the year, but not during fall season.”
Dumontier cited comparisons of several higher-end blowers, looking at air volume (cubic feet per minute) and air speed (miles per hour). For example, the gas-powered Schröder SR-6400L levels were 920 cfm and 230 mph; the electric Greenworks’ were 610 cfm and 180 mph.
Cost is an even bigger difference, Dumontier found, even with the state’s Clean Off-Road Equipment Voucher Incentive Project, which offers a rebate in the hundreds of dollars for purchase of an electric blower.
“Buying a battery-operated leaf blower that can be used by gardeners is at least $1,500-$2,000 with batteries, when a gas blower costs $400,” she noted. “For our gardener, with the money raised, we could only buy two batteries. He couldn’t go all day using only the electric blower. But at least it was progress.”
“If we want gardeners to stop using gas leaf blowers, homeowners have to help their gardeners,” she said. “Homeowners have to provide the backpack battery blower with a charged battery (handheld blowers are too tiring for professional gardeners). … Gardeners can purchase through the voucher program, and homeowners can provide a charged battery to their gardener each time he/she comes.”
Linda Ziff of GreenTown Los Altos has led the charge for more electric leafblowers. She addressed the concerns over cost and use.
“Sometimes people will compare a standard gas blower to the cheapest electric blower,” she said. “Those $29-$59 blowers are more for homeowner use than professional use. The best backpack electric blowers are close to the power of gas, and they are being improved all the time. Electric blowers are certainly powerful enough to do regular landscape cleanup.”
Ziff acknowledged that “the initial cost of a good electric leaf blower may be significant for some gardeners, and we would hope that the homeowner/employer would take some responsibility here.”
She said that in the longer term, electric blowers are less costly because they don’t need as much maintenance and don’t require gas.
The city first banned gas-powered leaf blowers in 1991, following, primarily, a litany of noise complaints.
Early on, police were patrolling streets for violators, but that policy changed to caller-driven responses by code enforcement officers to improve police officers’ efficient use of their time. To cite users, officers would have to catch them in the act. Often, officers would arrive at a location only to find the leaf blower no longer in use.
Seeking help from homeowners
With gas-powered use still prevalent and the city looking to implement its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, the council is revisiting the enforcement component.
“Our gardener uses electric leaf blowers,” said resident John Cooper. “Other than two of my neighbors using the same service, I never see any other local gardeners doing so. Do any others even exist? Just drive around the neighborhoods any weekday and you’ll see what I mean.Surely, we, as a community, can pivot to the legally required and environmentally friendly alternative of electric leaf blowing. The rewards are high and the costs minimal, especially in comparison to switching over to all-electric indoor appliances.”
Resident Vicki Levy had another suggestion.
“One solution would be for each homeowner to purchase an electric leaf blower and keep it in a designated spot for use by their own gardener,” she said. “The battery life is more than sufficient for the gardening tasks of one residence. Electric leaf blowers are reasonably priced and have lightweight, rechargeable batteries that are easily removed from the blower and can be taken inside and recharged. … An electric leaf blower is as quiet as a hair dryer and does not emit fumes.”
Dumontier sees homeowners as key to mitigating the problem.
“Hopefully most people now agree that the homeowners should be fined rather than the operator of the gas blowers,” she said. “If homeowners can be involved, there is a chance to make progress.”
Added Ziff: “We need to look around us and to the future to see that the cost of continually polluting our air, contributing to greenhouse gases and exacerbating climate change has major costs.”
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