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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Hot Air over Leaf Blowers

Air Date: Week of January 16, 1998

In Los Angeles, a move to ban leaf blowers has ignited a class struggle between gardeners and some homeowners. After years of wrangling, the Los Angeles City Council has voted to ban the use of gas powered leaf blowers within 500 feet of residences due to noise. The ban takes effect in just about a month. But, the split the issue has created between working class gardeners and their typically well-heeled clients may take much longer to repair. From Los Angeles, Emily Harris reports.

Transcript

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
After years of wrangling, the Los Angeles City Council has voted to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers within 500 feet of residences. the ban takes effect in just about a month, but the split the issue has created between working class gardeners and their typically well-heeled clients may take much longer to repair. From Los Angeles, Emily Harris reports.

(Leaf blower noise)

HARRIS: For many in Los Angeles this has been the sound of lawn care. A team of gardeners using leaf blowers to clean up a yard. Gardener Terry James says he'd hate to work without them.

JAMES: It's the most efficient tool that we use that helps us to do as many houses as possible. In order to make money in this business you have to be able to do a lot of houses.

HARRIS: But many residents have been complaining for years about the noise, the dust, and the exhaust that come with gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Now, after 10 years of debate, Los Angeles has followed the lead of its neighbors, such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, and banned them. LA's move led dozens of mostly Hispanic gardeners to stage a week-long protest at City Hall, some going on a hunger strike to dramatize their plight. For organizer Alva Huerta, this fight represents a much larger issue.

HUERTA: the root of this fight is the right for the worker to make an honest living. And the fact that the worker does not have a voice in the city of LA. Those that influence city politics are people on the west side, people with money, who can develop these laws and implement these laws without the input of the majority of the gardeners who will suffer the consequences of an unjust law.

HARRIS: Gardeners say without leaf blowers it could take twice as long to clear a lawn. But they fear most clients won't pay more for the extra work. Gardening is a competitive business here. Many gardeners operate on the edge of the LA economy. Most work without health or retirement benefits, and their ability to charge what they see as a fair price is undercut by a constant stream of newcomers. But the people who fought to rid LA of the gas-powered leaf blowers are glad to see them go. City Council Member Cindi Misicowski says the dust and pollution from a leaf blower outweigh the value of a quick cleanup.

MISICOWSKI: It's not an instrument that -- that solves or helps create a solution to something.

HARRIS: Councillor Misicowski doesn't buy the gardeners' claims that they'll be hurt by the ban.

MISICOWSKI: They should be able to raise their rates. Although they may lose some customers, those that they will maintain they will charge more. So that at the very least, it should be economically neutral.

HARRIS: No one knows exactly what the economic impact of the ban will be, but supporters of the ban say the move will have a definite impact on the city's air. Gail Ruderman-Feuer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the garden tools make a small but significant contribution to smog.

RUDERMAN-FEUER: If you take one small leaf blower or a hand-held piece of equipment, that can be the equivalent of driving a car somewhere between 300 and 2500 miles, just for operating that leaf blower for an hour.

HARRIS: Opponents of the ban don't dispute that blowers are smelly and noisy. But, they say, don't publish the gardeners. For Carlos Porras, director of the environmental justice organization Communities for a Better Environment, leaf blowers are a minor issue.

PORRAS: Certainly not a big enough problem to take such a Draconian action that would have immediate economic impacts on certain constituencies. We think that it would be more appropriate to take a look at this problem at the manufacturers' end and develop a regulation requiring certain thresholds for this type of equipment.

HARRIS: There are some quiet and exhaust-free leaf blowers on the market. Some gardeners use them, but the Gardeners Association says plugs aren't always available and extension cords are difficult to work with and dangerous around water. As part of the deal ending the gardeners' hunger strike, LA officials promised to support research into alternative energy sources. And the push for lawn-clearing tools that could please both sides may get a boost from state air quality officials. They're considering a crackdown across California on emissions for a wide variety of power equipment. Meanwhile, LA may not have heard the last of the old-style machines. Among some gardeners there is talk of civil disobedience, continuing to use loud leaf blowers, and challenging the city to strictly enforce the law.

(Loud leaf blowers)

HARRIS: For Living on Earth I'm Emily Harris in Los Angeles.

 

 

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