Council Approves Partial Leaf Blower Ban

Council Approves Partial Leaf Blower Ban

Following months of discussion, the Cambridge City Council has given preliminary approval to a partial ban on the use of leaf blowers that Councilor Henrietta Davis says should ensure that residents have a "quiet summer."

At their November 19 meeting, the councilors voted to allow the use of leaf blowers between March 15 and June 15 and between September 15 and the end of December--what they called the spring and fall "clean-up periods." But the blowers would be banned at other times of the year.

The council plans to vote on a final draft of the proposed ordinance at a meeting in December.

In its final form, the new law is likely to include some exceptions, such as for M.I.T and Harvard, and for maintenance work in city parks, cemeteries and the golf course. There will also be restrictions on how loud the machines can be and where they can be used by commercial contractors, who will also have to provide workers with safety training.

The plan is a compromise between one proposed by Davis and modifications suggested by the city manager's office, which was concerned about whether an overly restrictive ban could substantially increase the cost of contracts the city has with landscaping companies.

The law would limit the noise level of the machines to 65 decibels when measured from a distance of 50 feet. That is about the same noise level that two people having a conversation can generate when they are sitting a few feet apart. While older models of leaf blowers can be considerably noisier than that, newer models can meet the 65-decibel standard.

In Davis's original proposal, commercial contractors would not have been allowed to use the blowers within 150 feet of a residential zone. But the councilors decided instead to require contractors to submit plans to the city for their use in residential areas. They would also have to provide worker training about the use of earplugs, protective clothing and other safety precautions.

The council also decided that on property that is 10,000 square feet or less, only one leaf blower could be used at a time. For larger parcels, one blower will be allowed for every 10,000-square-foot area.

Still unclear is exactly how the new law will be enforced and what the penalties would be for violators. The council said the ban could be enforced under an existing noise ordinance and also by the Department of Public Works. But Councilor Craig Kelley, who wanted a more complete ban, seemed dubious about how well that would work.

With the partial ban's exemptions and exceptions, Kelley said, "We're not going to see any enforcement at all, because people are not going to know what's allowed and what isn't."

But Councilor Tim Toomey disagreed, saying "I think we've struck a good balance and I hope the public sees that." He also noted that the council had been wrestling with the issue for "months and months."

Leaf blower restrictions have long been in place in other parts of the country, with California leading the way. Cities including Los Angeles and Berkeley have banned gas-powered blowers and Palo Alto imposes a stiff $200 fine on violators.

Despite Toomey's optimisim, it seems likely that the compromise the council struck will leave a lot of people unhappy. Landscaping firms have complained that any ban on the use of leaf blowers will hurt their businesses, while residents such as Jo Solet think the new law will not nearly go far enough.

Solet, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, is concerned about the health effects of the blowers, especially on workers who use them frequently. "I ask for a two-to-three year phase-in of a total ban," she told the council.


Great article, Karen, thanks!