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Sacramento City Council unanimously passes leaf blower ban

In a conversation with ABC10, Vice Mayor Jeff Harris said the ordinance was health-focused by tying the ban to air quality.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance, Tuesday, adding restrictions to leaf blowers after hearing public comments on the ban.  

The proposal, put forth by Vice Mayor Jeff Harris, bans all leaf blowers, gas and electric, when the Air Quality Index (AQI) is at or above 101. The ban comes amid the coronavirus pandemic and following a historic fire season that sent smoke and ash to the skies of the Sacramento Valley.

"Even though the air quality was devastating, people were out using leaf blowers," Harris said in a conversation with ABC10. 

Harris said that the days when leaf blowers would be banned are likely to occur in the summer.

"Now, during the summer, people are not out blowing leaves," Harris said. "They are blowing dirt, mostly. I'm sure you've all seen leaf blowers stirring up billowing clouds of dust."

Before the City Council meeting, several people made public comments. Those in favor of this type of ordinance generally cite noise, health, and the environment as reasons to implement a ban. Those who are against the leaf blower ban point out that landscaping businesses could suffer. 

"This is a pretty hot button issue," Harris said. "People are pretty passionate about their leaf blowers. Not only do people enjoy having their lawns serviced on a regular basis, but then there's the equity issue. We're not trying to forestall anybody's ability to make a living as a landscaper."

By tying the ban to air quality, landscapers will likely only need to find alternatives for a few days a year. The ban is also meant to protect landscapers, Harris said, who may not be wearing a mask while using leaf blowers.

Harris said the ban is more enforceable through the health component as well. Authorities can start with several warnings before fines are levied.

"This is not about being punitive," Harris said. "This is really more of an education campaign."

The ban would be complaint-driven and would be mostly education and outreach focused.

The city of Sacramento already has a noise ordinance around leaf blowers, but Harris said it's difficult to enforce. By the time the city receives a complaint and goes out to investigate, the leaf blowers are gone. This ban, in contrast, is focused on lung health.  

"What we're really trying to get at is health," Harris said. "We're in a pandemic. We're having catastrophic fires. This ordinance is orientated toward health-promoting issues, and that's really the basis of it."

The ordinance would specifically add language to the Sacramento City Code banning people from operating a portable blower when the AQI is 100 or above and would define “Air Quality Index” as the “Current PM 2.5 AQI” for downtown Sacramento, as reported by the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) on its website. According to the SMAQMD, the air quality in the area went above 100 an average of 34.4 days a year going back to 2014.

One challenge is that AQI can change by the hour. However, Harris said during the meeting that the goal of the ordinance would not be to enforce the ban on an hourly basis. The City Council said it plans to make the information as accessible as possible for gardeners and landscapers. 

The city is planning to undertake "pretty substantial outreach," Harris said, including a bilingual or even a multilingual mailer to all landscaping companies in the area.

"The idea in bringing this ordinance forward was just simply to say this: don't use leaf blowers on days when the air quality is bad. It's already affecting people's health adversely, so let's not add to the load," Harris said.

Read more from ABC10

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