Twenty years ago Michael Cacciotti made a personal decision to focus his attention on improving the environment, become more ecologically responsible and make a difference for others.
As a prosecutor for the state attorney general’s office at the time, Cacciotti found himself in front of administrative hearing officers countless times while taking legal action against auto repair dealers and smog station owners after examining the impact of toxic emissions — chemicals, substances, and particles — coming out of gas-powered vehicles.
“After what I experienced, one day I got rid of my Audi and bought the ugliest car on the market… I still own my 2001 electric-operated Prius that has 170,000 miles, and followed that up by purchasing one of the first residential battery-powered lawn mowers, which are much more advanced today,” recalled Cacciotti, who became a member of the South Pasadena City Council in March of that same year.
Sitting on the council, determined to make a positive change, the current mayor pro tem was at the forefront of the effort six years ago when South Pasadena became the first city in the United States to adopt an all electric zero emission equipment standard for maintaining its local parks.
Fast forward to today, Cacciotti has taken his crusade one step further, now urging the South Pasadena Unified School District to make the same claim by going green, using 100% battery-powered equipment to maintain its district property and its five public schools in town.
“They seem really excited about it and know it’s important to do the right thing,” he said. “The school board is really looking at this, and it appears that their vendor, BrightView, is willing to slowly make the changeover from gas-powered to battery-operated immediately with some of their smaller equipment. We’re hopeful [that], long term with a new contract, we will see much of their larger equipment like power mowers become all electric.”
As a current board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), a position he’s held since 2008, Cacciotti is now encouraging other southland cities and school districts to follow suit. Last week he met with officials from the City of Yorba Linda regarding the SCAQMD electric lawn mower and equipment rebate program. Among those on hand for a demonstration of all-battery powered equipment at Hurless Burton Park in the Orange County city were SCAQMD Executive Officer Wayne Nastri; agency staff; fellow South Coast Air Quality Board Member Carlos Rodriquez, who also serves as Yorba Linda’s mayor pro tem; the city’s mayor, Peggy Huang; public works personnel and other city and county personnel interested in the program.
Demonstrating the numerous sources of battery-operated options, including sit-down mowers, hedge trimmers, edgers and leaf blowers, was Dan Mabe, founder of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), a global leader in zero-emission sustainable grounds maintenance strategies designed to transition entire cities, schools, universities, sports facilities, golf courses, homeowner’s associations, retirement communities, hospitals, and hotels to battery-powered equipment.
“We’re an industry organization whose mission is to prudently — and I want to stress prudently — here to help transition the grounds maintenance industry to lower impact quieter practices, and sustainability operations,” said Mabe, who is working with the SCAQMD to help push the effort to mow down air pollution.
As some of the officials, including Nastri, rolled around the open spaces of the park’s grass area riding on an electric lawnmower, Cacciotti talked about the importance of the program. “Cities like Yorba Linda that have used gas for a long time are looking at possibly transitioning into non-polluting, quiet, battery-operated equipment that will help keep their residents and city workers safe, and save them a lot of money in the long run,” he said. “Going all-electric, cities like Yorba Linda can save as much as 75 percent by purchasing equipment through our program. That’s enormous. I think it’s a step in the right direction for these cities that are adapting to this change. The technology is there. Now we just need to get the cities to convert over and help improve the lives of everyone. I’m concerned about worker health, the kids that have to smell gas, the pets and pollution in our parks, and neighborhoods.”
Huang, in her role as Yorba Linda’s mayor, said she’s a big believer in battery-power, noting that she has not driven a gas-powered vehicle in nearly eight years. “I love and study alternative fuel technology,” she said. “We still have problems in terms of infrastructure. We have to make sure that our grid works. So we will have to look into that infrastructure to support all the electrification. But now is the time for us to start changing into a different technology. There’s so much you can do with the battery, it’s so much lighter. And it’s good for the environment. Noise pollution is something people don’t talk about. But if you think about the use of this electric equipment, you reduce noise pollution as well. And that’s really good for people, especially the elderly, who are much more sensitive with their hearing. I hope we’ll turn the corner and start looking into this technology, I think this is great for all cities.”
Nastri, following his ride around the park on the power electric mower, praised Cacciotti for his enthusiasm and efforts to clear and reduce environmental toxins. “From an air quality perspective, this is great because it shows people there’s good technology out there. And in the same way that we see the technology for these lawn applications and commercial lawn care, we see those same kind of electrical applications on heavy-duty transport and the like. I think the more that people are comfortable with clean energy, I think the more they’re going to accept it in sort of all facets. In this particular regard, it’s great to see this kind of [lawn and garden] equipment in areas where people enjoy. This certainly is good, not only from the exposure perspective, but also getting people to think like I said before, there are other opportunities [for electric power].”
Mabe likes the idea of hosting workshops for cities, local politicians, and SCAQMD staff members. Odds are on his side that groups he makes pitches to will sign on to the SCAQMD’s electric lawn and garden equipment program.
He’s batting about a .800 success rate — or eight out of 10 — from those making a commitment, a high level, especially since he’s often put on the spot, fielding some tough questions. “I’m asked to give answers off the cuff, which are pretty complex sometimes,” he admitted, describing what’s it’s like going from one city to the next telling the story of why battery-power should be the favored environmental alternative these days. “But this is a return on investment. You have to know the cost-benefit analysis. What are the metrics of the pollution? We also measure the work production rate capability of electric versus their all-gas tools. There’s a lot to it. We’re not just laying out a bunch of electric gardening equipment and saying ‘buy one.’”
As Mabe receives a series of questioning, some on the technical side and more, he stands in front of an arsenal of tools, encouraging those doing the asking to pick them up and ‘give ‘em a whirl.’
Along with South Pasadena, the Altadena Public Library, the City of South El Monte, Ojai, Los Angeles State Historic Park, Yerba Buena High School, the Adamson House Museum in Malibu, are all on board as AGZA certified, while Mabe said a well-known university in Los Angeles, without identifying it, is close to the finish line.
In reaching out to the City of Yorba Linda, Mabe pushed the message that making the conversion to electric is “something they don’t need to be afraid of. We’re definitely going to follow up with their facility managers and come back out and work with their crews, actually letting them use this equipment for a full day. And then if they want, we’re going to let him keep it for a week or two so they can really understand what it can do.”
It happens more than not during one of his demonstrations, explained Mabe, in which city grounds crews will stand back at a distance at the start of a presentation, only to be drawn in closer as it concludes. “After we put the equipment into their hands, explain the functionality, go over the charging schedule, they let their guard down. And they start to say, ‘You know what, this isn’t so bad.’”
Following last week’s session, Mabe said the next step with Yorba Linda would be the “engagement” stage with the idea that in the months ahead, he hopes the city will slowly convert to electric. “At a minimum, when they need to retire old gas tools, we hope they’ll participate in the program [and] replace their equipment with electric. The best we can hope for is they’ll say, ‘Wow, this is so good! We want to do a project.”
It’s a dream he can only hope will one day come true, but Cacciotti looks ahead to a time when electric-operated lawn and garden equipment becomes a universal practice around public buildings, parks, churches, school and college campuses.
“Making changes like the use of electric is all about protecting our health, our environment, and stopping global warming,” he said. “Do you know how many billions of gallons of gasoline we will be saving a year, how many tons of pollution we will be reducing in our neighborhoods, in our parks and recreation areas where our kids and animals walk and play? It’s just unbelievable. Life would be so much better for so many people. We all must do what we can [and] do our part to fight for cleaner air. We can by making the effort. We’re all in this together.”
To learn more about the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Commercial Electric Lawn & Garden Equipment Incentive & Exchange Program call Tuesday – Friday, 7:30 to 5 p.m., at (888) 425-6247 or visit www.aqmd.gov/lawnmower