The Dry Garden: L.A. banned gas-powered leaf blowers, but the sound of failure is still loud and clear


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What would you do if a neighbor came to you and asked, ‘For 20 minutes every week, may I turn on your vacuum cleaner, smoke detector and garbage disposal and run them all at once?’

Holding that thought, consider if the neighbor added, ‘Ah, may I also blow noxious dust your way for those same 20 minutes?”


Imagine that not just one neighbor on the street asked it, but eight. Imagine that each one just wanted their 20 minutes to blare noise and blow dust. It would be sometime between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Add up the minutes and they would equal about six straight days of noise a year. The dust would stay suspended longer, an element of smog.

Given the choice, most people would say ‘no’ in terms unrepeatable here, so most Angelenos don’t ask for permission. They just blast noise and blow dust at their neighbors. They call it gardening.

Few laws in Los Angeles are probably flouted more often than the 1998 ban on gasoline-powered leaf blowers. After the Los Angeles City Council banned such blowers, demonstrations by mow-and-blow crews framed the change as an anti-Latino, anti-working-man law.

More than a decade later, the suggestion that garden crews use legal equipment, never mind rakes, is tantamount to class warfare.

That anyone can’t garden without leaf blowers is the more insulting suggestion. Congratulations are due to the South Coast Air Management District for its leaf blower equivalent of a gun exchange, which last April took 500 noisy, old models out of circulation. Another 500 won’t be traded until next April. If, like me, you live in hope of change, don’t read a 2010 New Yorker article. It reports that the new, improved blowers involved in the amnesty aren’t necessarily quiet. The article says decibel levels are tested in open field conditions, and couldn’t quite suppress its amusement that the noise level rises dramatically in ‘more reverberant terrain.’

That would be Los Angeles.

Not everyone is as bothered as I am by leaf blowers. It is incredible to me that they are acceptable for anything other than the most occasional job, such as blowing leaves off a roof, in which the precariousness of the task argues for them. When it comes to the weekly business of clearing up leaves and trimmings from lawn edgers, raking wouldn’t take significantly more time than blowing.


If garden crews feel put-upon, they could charge for the difference. Homeowners who care about the health of their gardeners, never mind their neighbors, should pay it.

-- Emily Green

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Members of a gardeners group wave brooms during a 1998 protest against a law banning gas-powered leaf blowers. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times