South Pasadena is about to get a whole lot quieter, enjoying the benefits of cleaner air with the enactment of a new ordinance prohibiting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers throughout the city.
In a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday night, the South Pasadena City Council voted for the ban, which takes effect October 1, 2022, while allowing independent gardeners and residents more than a year to switch to battery-operated machinery without facing possible penalties.
The ordinance was created to protect individuals from excessive levels of noise, in an effort to promote health, safety, and welfare through the elimination of gas-powered devices used to blow leaves, dirt, and other debris off sidewalks, driveways, lawns, or other surfaces within the city limits.
A first violation will receive a written warning notice. A second will receive a fine not exceeding $100, a third calling for a fine up to $200 and finally a fourth not exceeding $500.
The City of South Pasadena will conduct a robust outreach effort to encourage compliance prior to the effective date by sending out mailers, putting the information about the ordinance in its newsletter, on its webpage, and will hold webinars/workshops, including one on Thursday, August 26, at 7:00 p.m. entitled: “Transitioning to Electric Land Equipment”. Those tuning into the webinar will learn about the noise and air pollution issues associated with gas-powered equipment and the resources available to help make the transition to electric.
To help spread the word, approximately $25,000 in the city general fund’s undesignated reserves from the Public Works’ Environmental Services account will be used on postage ($5,800), advertising ($3,000), and printing/duplicating ($16,200).
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti, who initiated the proposal in a determined push for no gas-powered leaf blowers in town over the past couple of years, thanked the Natural Resources and Environmental Commission (NREC), and members of the city staff, including City Manager Armine Chaparyan, Public Works Director Shahid Abbas, Deputy Public Works Director Ted Gerber, and Arpy Kasparian, a water conservation & sustainability analyst, for their diligence in creating a workable ordinance.
“There have been several meetings looking at this, a complex issue… it was directed in a proper way to move it along,” he said. “Great work!”
Forty-two residents weighed in with support by communicating their thoughts to City Hall while two opposed. “So, this is like 98% support,” Cacciotti continued. “It’s unheard of in South Pasadena for any big issue like this to find that much support.”
He also expressed his gratitude to Dan Mabe, the founder of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), which through its efforts continues to improve the health of grounds maintenance workers while enhancing the quality of life of communities across the country, urging them to go green in his organization’s quest to convert cities from gas-powered to battery-electric operated equipment.
South Pasadena, he proudly touts, is the first AGZA Green Zone city in the United States, earning certification to ensure that grounds maintenance on municipal properties — mowing, hedging, edging, trimming, sawing, and blowing — are serviced with low-noise zero-emission machinery and manual hand tools.
As a longtime board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Cacciotti said the agency is seeking additional funding available to make it economically easier for independent gardeners and residents to switch to battery-powered leaf blowers and other lawn maintenance equipment through a significant cost-cutting program launched by SCAQMD, which offers a 75 percent rebate for individuals purchasing new leaf blowers.
“You are setting up a model for the rest of the San Gabriel Valley to follow,” praised Cacciotti of city staff’s work before taking it one step further. “We are going to be a model for the nation. I’m just so impressed.”
Bill Kelly, on the board of the NREC, points out that gas-powered leaf blowers are major emitters of air pollution, providing as much volatile organic compound pollution in one hour as a 2017 Toyota Camry emits driving from South Pasadena to Denver.
He stressed that gas-powered leaf blowers emit carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, “and we are in a time of climate emergency. Restricting gas powered lawn and garden equipment is called for in South Pasadena’s 2020 climate action plan.”
Recognizing its dangers, Cacciotti in his remarks on the topic Wednesday night, exclaimed: “Wake up! A guy is wearing an internal combustion motor on his back, killing himself, his family, blowing it in your window. You’re inhaling that all day, your kids are. Your hearing is being impacted!”
In early July, councilmembers heard a first reading on the proposed ordinance, including a lengthy discussion, comments from the public, with city staff asked to follow-up by providing a much more comprehensive analysis and complete package, which clearly won over the council during its second go-around on the issue Wednesday. Among concerns raised initially by the council were penalty enforcement on those using gas-powered devices, along with who assumes the responsibility for the infraction – the tenant, property owner or equipment user.
The revised ordinance clarifies language to ensure that tenants will not be held responsible for the authorization of gas-powered leaf blower used by the property owner. Criminalization has been removed with civil enforcement implemented, as a simple and clear penalty structure was added. Violators will not be subjected to misdemeanors as outlined in the original proposed ordinance.
Grateful for the efforts of city staff of the current revisions made in a report and input by his fellow councilmembers, Cacciotti said: “We have a much better version right now, thanks to your hard work.”
Councilmember Jon Primuth said he was “well pleased” on how the revised ordinance came together, saying: “We had a lot of people touching this. We had commissions, staff working on it, councilmembers, and consultants. Everybody had a helpful touch. When you think of all the improvements that have been made, you have a better definition of what the prohibitive conduct is, you have a much clearer standard of liability… more of a definition of what the penalty is, enforcement, policies, then the outreach program beefing it up, which is really critical which the community can accept and understand. So, I really applaud everyone who touched this process.”
Councilmember Jack Donovan echoed Primuth’s thoughts, adding: “I’m really impressed with what the staff did to clean it up. It’s an ordinance that obviously should have passed a long time ago, now it’s passed right and I’m really happy to see that.”
More than 200 cities across the country, including over 20 in California, have enacted restrictions on gas-powered leaf blowers, among them Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Claremont, Laguna Beach, Lawndale, Malibu, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
Recognizing Cacciotti for his efforts in the past to get an ordinance of this type on the books, South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud said, “Sometimes it takes much longer than we would like to get things done, but this is a real quality product.”