Turning Over New Leaf a Rake's Job in Lomita : Mechanical Blowers Banned Over Objections From Gardeners, Manufacturers

Times Community Correspondent

Over the protests of gardener representatives and equipment manufacturers, Lomita this week became the first South Bay city to outlaw leaf blowers.

Mayor Hal Hall, who had asked the city attorney to prepare the ordinance that was approved by a 3-2 vote, said several citizens have complained about noise and dust from the machines.

"The only people who are against the ordinance are gardeners," Hall said. "No private citizens have protested this ordinance."

Gardeners Complain

But several gardeners and an industry representative did attend Monday's public hearing to object to the proposal, which they said would hurt residents by increasing the cost of gardeners.

"Take the blowers away from them and turn them back to rakes and brooms. Turn the industry back 30 years," said Gerson Ribnick, small-business consultant for the Southern California Gardeners Federation. He said concern about water shortages prevents gardeners from using hoses to clean up debris.

In recent years, the association has successfully fought proposed leaf-blower bans in several cities, including Newport Beach and Orange. In Redondo Beach, officials have studied banning leaf blowers but have not voted on an ordinance. One problem, City Manager Tim Casey said, is that the city's own workers use them and a ban would affect their productivity. Beverly Hills has banned them since 1978 and Santa Monica has restricted the hours when they can be used, but Lomita is the first South Bay city to ban the machines.

The gardeners federation estimates that, on the average, it takes gardeners 10 minutes to gather debris with the machines, compared to half an hour using a rake or broom. With the machines, which cost between $150 and $300, most gardeners can tend six large yards or 10 small ones per day, the federation estimates.

Mayor Hall disputed the federation's view that the cost of gardeners would increase if blowers were banned.

"The gardener across from me doesn't use a blower and he does the job just as fast as any gardener who does," Hall said.

Four residents spoke in favor of the ban. Each complained of excessive noise and dust.

Dust Problem

One of them, Gabe Estrada, said the noise, while irritating, is secondary to the dust problem. He said that dust comes in his open windows and triggers allergic reactions. In addition, he said, many blower users just move debris rather than cleaning it up.

Representing several blower manufacturers, Darrell Wheeler said the makers are doing everything possible to reduce noise.

In response to Councilman Charles Belba's query about the feasibility of using the blowers as vacuums to pick up debris, Wheeler said, "Most current blowers do not have vacuum attachments. Most do have water spray attachments, which can substantially cut down on dust."

Another representative of the gardeners federation, Robert Ida, said the problem is not the blowers but the people who use them. He said the 4,000 members of his group represent only 10% of professional gardeners in Southern California.

"Our members have guidelines on how to operate the blowers: Use them at the lowest possible speed. Don't raise dust. Pick up after yourself. These are only a few," Ida said.

Guidelines Published

He said the guidelines are in English and Spanish, and his group has run ads in Spanish-language newspapers and on television telling how to use the equipment.

"We even got Sunset magazine to run an article on the correct use of the blowers so that everyone can use them responsibly, even private owners," Ida said.

He and Ribnick expressed willingness to help Lomita in any way, from conducting seminars on proper use of the blowers to contacting individual users and admonishing them to be more responsible.

Councilman Hal Croyts suggested forming a committee consisting of professional gardeners, homeowners, city staff and a councilman to seek a compromise, but he was outvoted.

Councilman Robert Hargrave then moved to reject the ordinance altogether, but could not find a second for his motion.

2 Dissenters

Finally, the ordinance was passed, with Belba and Hargrave voting against it.

Belba opposed the ban on privacy grounds.

"If it only covered front yards, I might support the ordinance," he said. "What people do in their backyards is their business. We're not Big Brother. And how is anyone supposed to enforce this?"

Belba noted that the city has one full-time and one part-time code enforcement officer, "and they're already overworked."

As for the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who patrol Lomita, "we have two patrol cars in the morning, 2 1/2 in the afternoon, and one in the evening," he said. "I don't think we can expect them to eliminate the blower problem."

Fines Probable

Those using blowers probably will be subject to fines under the ordinance, but the council did not specify an amount.

Croyts emphasized that the ordinance includes city maintenance and landscape workers. "We cut a blower out of our proposed budget. No one at all will be allowed to use them."

Disappointed industry representatives said the council may hear more about the issue.

"I don't think they realize what they've let themselves in for," said Ribnick. "Just wait until they try to tell some Lomita resident that he can't use his blower in his own yard anymore or he'll be fined."

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