First published in the Sept. 22 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
La Cañada Flintridge’s initiative to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers by next summer has hit a snag with two City Council members again expressing concerns over implementation of the proposed ordinance.
City staff presented a first reading of an ordinance that amends a municipal code and prohibits the use of internal combustion leaf blowing machines at a special meeting Tuesday. The ban, which would have gone into effect July 1, 2023, is part of a promise made by city officials six years ago to combat greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution with the establishment of the climate action plan.
The councilmembers were at a stalemate on the issue with Mayor Keith Eich and Mike Davitt opposed to the ordinance as written — a stance that they took at a previous meeting when the issue was discussed — and expressed concern over implementation and enforcement.
“I’m not comfortable with making a change which to me seems like a lot, and I think we’re far underestimating the implementation,” Davitt said.
Under the direction of the City Council, LCF staff’s plan regarding enforcement was to make not only landscapers responsible but also the property owner who is paying for their services. Details on the enforcement process were vague but Eich believes a process of having residents reporting violations to city staff is lengthy and could create problems between neighbors.
“We should be realistic about that,” he said. “So, what we’re going to end up having is people taking videos, posting it on social media and not loving their neighbor, and I think that’s the wrong direction.”
Council members Terry Walker and Kim Bowman were in favor of the ban but were without the vote needed that could have moved the ordinance forward in Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gunter, who was not present for the meeting and is part of the city’s climate action plan subcommittee that helped create the policy.
“Where can we make inroads that will improve our environmental quality, in particular our air quality here, while at the same time not overly stressing any one component of our society?” Bowman said. “And so, this is a reasonable place to make that progress.”
The ordinance has now been sent back to LCF staff with new direction from council members. Walker asked her colleagues for clarity on how to proceed with the issue because she was under the impression that the Council had previously agreed to move forward with a ban.
“I don’t want to keep having the same discussion of, ‘Do we ban the batteries or gas-powered machines or not?’” she said. “I thought there was concurrence to move forward.”
To avoid further circling around the subject, City Manager Mark Alexander suggested that the mayor appoint two councilmembers, one from each side of the argument, to work with staff and address their concerns to create a policy that works for everyone.
All councilmembers agreed that they would like to see whether city staff recommends a subsidy plan that would encourage residents and landscapers to make the switch to electric leaf blowers.
“We have to start somewhere, and I certainly recognize the burden that it could place on our providers,” Bowman said. “And I hope that we look at those incentives sooner than later so that could be part of our outreach because I think it’s going to be an important part of it.”
Davitt suggested that the date be pushed back to line up with the state’s when it comes to the law prohibiting production and sales of small internal combustion engines, including those often used for lawns. The state law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024.
“When we get closer to that date, there will be a lot more attention put on it from the media and other avenues,” Davitt said. “To me that will help in the easing of people understanding what’s coming down the road.”
Eich agreed with his colleague and expressed greater concern over the fact that batteries used to power electrical leaf blowers are also harmful to the environment. He also felt uncomfortable with banning gas-powered equipment due to the unreliability of Southern California Edison — the city’s power provider.
“Batteries are worse than gas-powered equipment if you look at them cradle to grave, not if you look at them in their actual use,” the mayor said. “So my fear isn’t just with leaf blowers and what we’re doing, but also with the next step that would occur here, which is potentially banning all gas-powered lawn equipment, going further and potentially banning natural gas appliances at home.”
LCF staff agreed to present an updated ordinance to the City Council at a later date.