A large heavy-duty truck full of gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and more pulled up in front of Garfield Park in South Pasadena one day last week, and out came a pair of professional independent gardeners looking for answers.
They had questions – lots of them.
Michael Cacciotti, a longtime local city council member currently serving as mayor pro tem, joined by top officials from the city and other lawn care representatives, were eager to field their inquires.
The visitors had heard that South Pasadena was among a growing number of cities that in about a year’s time will be banning the use of leaf blowers using gasoline and that gardeners like themselves would be asked to transition to battery-operated models.
Near the entrance to the park on the Mission Street side they questioned Cacciotti and city staff whether the equipment would hold up against what they were accustomed to, suggesting that gas-powered machinery was more durable, providing a stronger air-flow and simply a better choice for doing the job.
“It doesn’t seem to be blowing too strong,” said one of the gardeners as he pointed the leaf blower at the grass, not realizing it wasn’t set to its highest setting. Quickly making the adjustment was Dan Mabe, founder of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), which certifies cities on the safe and efficient implementation of the latest battery electric equipment.
“Try it now,” said Mabe with the twist of a nob. In no time, the power of the battery-operated blower increased significantly, prompting a “woe, yeah! That feels about the same (as gas-powered),” said the user, giving it a try.
The gardeners were two of many who stopped by the park to learn about the gas-powered blower ban that officially goes into effect in the city October 1, 2022. As a way of announcing it, South Pasadena is holding a series of demonstrations or field workshops to introduce electric leaf blowers to the community. The event on September 15 was a kickoff to implementing the city’s ordinance.
“When they try the battery models against what they are used to, they’re finding them comparable in getting the task done to gas-powered,” explained Mabe. “What you’re seeing out here in terms of battery-powered equipment is so much better than just three or four years ago. It’s very encouraging.”
As an AGZA city, all South Pasadena city properties and parks are maintained by the use of electric power – from mowers to leaf blowers. “This is the first of many outreach engagements to encourage people to use these battery-operated tools,” said Mabe, who started the American Green Zone Alliance roughly 11 years ago with the mission to encourage communities like South Pasadena to routinely use battery electric equipment for lawn care maintenance.
During the initial electric leaf-blower demonstration in South Pasadena, Mabe and others readily provided information about the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD) program where gardeners can trade in old gas-powered equipment for a new battery-powered equivalent for 75% of retail. In the first 90 minutes of last week’s electric leaf blower demonstration, Mabe said about 10 proprietors of gas-powered machines stopped by asking about the program.
Included in that were some residents who said they were going to pass along information about the ordinance and electric leaf blower demonstrations to their gardeners. On hand for the 4-hour event was Suntek, a zero emission lawn care company out of Orlando that uses 100% solar-powered electric tools.
“Their vans are power plants on wheels with a solar panels on top, a back-up storage battery, and are completely carbon free,” Mabe explained. “They charge their batteries with renewable energy used for their maintenance equipment.”
A strong proponent of the ordinance is South Pasadena City Manager Arminé Chaparyan, saying: “We have created an opportunity for residents, gardeners and anyone who is interested in learning about using electric equipment to come out to see demonstrations, use the products themselves, and get a sense of comfort,” she said. “We are hopeful over the next year to create multiple opportunities in which residents and gardeners can come and get a sense from us of what products are available and ways for them to apply for various rebate programs.”
She stressed the outreach in educating the public about the ordinance is critical to the success of the measure. “Efforts like this are going to continue creating a sustainable environment in our city,” she added, “and hopefully we will continue down this path of having various efforts that puts South Pasadena on the map as a sustainable community.”
Chaparyan likes the idea of being one of the first cities in California to create an ordinance. “We’re learning as we go along, and I see it as a partnership with the community. We encourage everyone to be a part of it. I think we’re learning a lot from each other. I’m certain that cities looking a doing similar ordinances are going to be looking to us since we’re in the middle of it. I think it’s exciting, yet how we do it and how we move forward is very important to us and that’s where we have to be thoughtful in our approach.”
Along with regular programming is slated over the next year, the city manager said a large family event to introduce the ordinance will take place in November.
“Our first electric leaf blower demonstration was kind of a dry-run for that,” noted Cacciotti, who said the ban was one of council’s biggest accomplishments since he came on council back in 2001. Took help get the word out, he and members of the city staff drove around the city passing out a flyer to gardeners while encouraging them to stop by Garfield Park and tryout the battery operated equipment.
“Some of the gardeners we talked to as we went from street to street had heard about the ordinance from the home owner, so that is encouraging,” said Cacciotti. “Some of the gardeners who came out told us they were willing to try the electric. The word is starting to get out there. Our residents know that electric leaf blowers are cleaner for the environment, much quieter, don’t use gasoline, oil, spark plugs or filters and, most importantly, are much better for their health.”
Cacciotti urged gardeners to take advantage of an incentive program through the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which provides huge reductions in costs for battery-powered maintenance for lawn and garden equipment.
“The program started a $1.7 million but now that amount is down to somewhere between $250,000 to $400,000. Gardeners can get 75% off but I encourage them to hurry. There are big savings.”
He insists the ban in South Pasadena will save independent gardener big dollars in the long term. “Like an electric car, over three, four, five years it will pay for itself,” Cacciotti said. “You don’t have to buy gas, oil, filters etc. It’s great for the environment. There is carbon dioxide coming out, hydrocarbons which contribute to climate change. This category of pollution – lawn care, small off-road gardening equipment – produces more pollution than cars. And the No. 1 reason is it impacts people’s health. Eliminating gas-powered leaf blowers will be a big improvement on people’s health. Whether it’s here, San Marino, Alhambra, Los Angeles or Pasadena, pollution has no boundaries. It blows over into our city depending on the wind. Once we get rid of this equipment its better for everybody, not only our community but everybody around us, some of whom that might have compromised immune systems.”