The Sonoma City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to ban gasoline powered leaf blowers.
The ban applies to blowers running on gas or other fuel, as well as generators used to power electric blowers, and will take effect after a 90-day grace period beginning Jan. 1.
The formal adoption of the ordinance, which also bars the blowing of yard debris into a neighboring yard, should come October 21.
Backing the ban were Councilmembers Ken Brown, Laurie Gallian and Steve Barbose. Members Tom Rouse and David Cook, who suggested putting the measure on a regular election ballot, a topic that was not pursued, voted against it.
Backers of the ban, who comprised most of the 23 people who offered comments at the council meeting, said the machines are disruptively noisy, emit pollution and spew dust, dirt and allergens into the air.
Citing health issues complicated by the swirling dust, Steve Dungen said, “When the leaf blowers come, we have to leave.”
Opponents said current restrictions, under the city’s noise ordinance, already addressed the problem, and it was a “freedom of choice” issue that city government should stay away from. Several landscapers said it would hurt business to loose such an efficient tool, as clients won’t pay for the extra time it would take to rake the same area.
As for the noise, one landscaper asked, “What’s next? Weed wackers? Lawnmowers? We need these leaf blowers to do our job.”
Electric leaf blowers, which are rated as less noisy than gas units, are legal under the ban. One landscaper estimated it would cost him $2,000 to convert his two-man crew to electric.
“I’m tired of the propaganda from the landscapers,” Regina Baker said. “You are accountable for being good stewards for the community.”
Councilmember Steve Barbose said he was not swayed by “predictions of dire economic consequences” or the freedom of choice argument. People subjected to gas blowers have no choice, he said. “They can’t choose not to hear the noise.”
“Years ago there were no leaf blowers, and we still had tidy yards,” Barbose said.
Barbose acknowledged that while addressing pollution, the ban may not solve related problems. With electric blowers, “Will we have the same noise, the same dust?”
Councilmember Tom Rouse voted against the ordinance, which he said was the work of “a vocal minority.”
“I don’t believe a ban will solve a heck of a lot,” Rouse said.
Councilmember David Cook, the other no vote, said he did not like gas blowers but would never support such a ban. Cook said he would like to see the measure on the 2014 ballot, but the council did not take up the idea.
Darryl Ponicsan long advocated the ban and collected over 300 signatures on a petition submitted to the council. “This is huge,” he said after the vote. “It’s time to rid this town of a clear and present nuisance.”