BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council voted tonight (Feb. 6) to increase the fines, ticket homeowners and no longer issue warnings for using gas-powered leaf blowers in residential neighborhoods.
Council members said they were interested in banning electric leaf blowers too, requiring gardeners to use rakes instead. But they weren’t ready to take that step at tonight’s meeting.
Starting on Sept. 1, fines will be $250, $500, and $1,000 for the first, second and third violations. A warning will no longer be required before writing a ticket, and the property owner or employer, not just the gardener, can be fined.
Council made the changes because code enforcement officers have struggled to enforce the current ordinance, which has been on the books for 18 years with little effectiveness.
The widespread use of gas-powered leaf blowers received heightened attention during the pandemic as more people were home during the day when gardeners use them.
A group of Palo Alto residents asked the city in October 2021 to enforce the ban, saying the exhaust and the noise was harming their quality of life.
The city hired Craig Hartley as a code enforcement officer dedicated to leaf blowers, and he helped come up with a new version of the ban that council approved.
More residents showed up tonight to ask the city to go even further by banning all leaf blowers.
Councilman Pat Burt agreed with them, and as a first step he suggested banning all leaf blowers — gas or electric — on public sidewalks and streets.
“We love our trees, and somehow we hate our leaves,” he said. “Leaves are not litter. They never historically were viewed as litter — except by a few people who really had a fetish over immaculate gardens.”
Councilwoman Julie Lythcott-Haims said she “finds it curious” that the city bans leaf blowers on Sundays only.
“That may be outdated given the diversity of our city,” she said. “For many, Saturday is as sacred a day as Sunday is to others.”
Vice Mayor Greer Stone said that banning gas-powered leaf blowers is a good step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even though they are responsible for just .6% of the city’s emissions.
“This is such low hanging fruit,” he said.
The city still allows gas-powered leaf blowers in commercial areas, and city workers use gas-powered leaf blowers in parks.
Residents that live near offices said they felt they were treated unfairly and that the city should switch to rakes.
“The city’s position is ambiguous, and frankly hypocritical,” resident Jeffrey Hook said.
But Planning Director Jonathan Lait said that large parking lots and areas like the Stanford Research Park are hard to maintain without gas blowers, and city workers have a hard time getting wet leaves off of playgrounds with electric leaf blowers.
The city’s Policy and Services Committee, which is made up of three council members, will discuss a citywide ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and come up with a recommendation for the full council.