By Shawn Raymundo
A proposal to initiate a pilot program restricting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in certain areas of San Clemente will go before the council for consideration later this year.
During the council’s Feb. 18 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson made the proposal for city staff to draw up an agenda report and potential ordinance that would ban the landscaping tool from being used in high-density areas west of Interstate 5 on a one-year trial basis.
“People use these leaf blowers; the gas-powered ones are so polluting, and people have to close their windows on a beautiful day, and a lot of people have their allergies,” Ferguson said, before suggesting the pilot program.
Councilmember Gene James supported Ferguson’s motion, allowing the topic to be agendized for a later council meeting.
Citing residents’ complaints centered on pollution issues and the loud noise created by such devices, the city had previously sought the council’s approval to adopt an ordinance regulating gas-powered leaf blowers.
That draft of that ordinance would have required those who own commercially operated leaf blowers to have their business information displayed on the device. Such information included the business name, address, phone number and business license number.
Those leaf blowers also would have had to be certified by the American National Standards Institute, ensuring they didn’t exceed a 65-decibal noise level, measured from 50 feet.
The city noted that those amendments would have reduced exhaust and noise, as well as helped code compliance staff avoid the use of a noise meter to verify whether the blower violated San Clemente’s noise ordinance.
However, that ordinance died last September in a 2-2 stalemate, with Ferguson and Councilmember Kathy Ward opposed. The two had instead advocated for an outright ban in residential and mixed-use areas, while allowing homeowners associations (HOAs) and golf courses to request exemptions.
Councilors revisited the leaf-blower discussion at their late-February meeting, during which Ferguson cited a 1999 Orange County Grand Jury report on the pollution hazards and other impacts caused by the daily usage of two-cycle gasoline-engine leaf blowers.
In the report, the grand jury implored cities and school districts “to cease using gas-powered blowers in their maintenance and cleanup operations,” stating the use of the blowers “outweigh the questionable economic benefit blowers may bring to the cities and the County.”
It also noted that the California Air Resources Board (ARB) had calculated leaf blowers to “inject 2.11 tons of combustion pollutants per day into Orange County air.”
Mayor Dan Bane expressed concern with how serious of an issue this was to the community, stating that since being elected to office in 2018, he’s only heard from five “vocal” individuals who are calling for a ban on leaf blowers.
“That’s it. This hasn’t been an issue,” Bane said.
He later stated that his position on the matter would be the same as it was last August, when he and Councilmember Chris Hamm backed the ordinance to regulate the gas-powered leaf blowers, but not ban them outright.
HOAs, Bane added, have the ability to ban the leaf blowers, putting the responsibility on them to enforce such a rule, rather than have the city’s code enforcement do so when staff “is already stretched incredibly thin.”
According to news reports, roughly 60 cities in California have imposed bans on gas-powered gardening tools, while the state is currently considering a statewide ban on such items.
Though Ward, who had supported an outright ban last summer, stated that the pollution caused by the gas-powered device is an issue, she said during the latest meeting she was in favor of waiting for the state to decide on the ban.
“It looks like the state is going there, anyway, but what they’re going to do is take away the gas-powered ones, and there’ll be programs to trade to electric,” Ward said. “I can go either way, but I’m leaning toward not doing this for now and waiting for the state.”
Ferguson initially proposed initiating a buyback program as part of her suggested ordinance, allocating city coffers to offer rebates for residents who replace their gas-powered blowers with electric ones. However, with Councilmember James stating he wasn’t willing to support such an initiative, Ferguson backed off that plan.
Per interim City Manager Robert Dunek’s request, the draft of the new ordinance will include a sunset provision to terminate the ban after one year of implementation.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.