Citizens Want Blowers Banished

Leaf-clearing power tools are ‘making others suffer,’ ban advocate tells council

Cambridge residents at last night’s City Council meeting had one word for leaf blowers: leave.

Three speakers at the session complained about the nettlesome noise, environmental damage, and potential health consequences caused by the blowers. And at the meeting, City Manager Robert W. Healy announced the creation of a task force to investigate the possibility of a city-wide ban.

But Healy’s announcement doesn’t mean the controversy is likely to blow over.

The task force includes four Cambridge residents as well as representatives from an equipment manufacturer, a landscaping firm, relevant city departments, and a member from MIT. But that did not fully satisfy advocates of an all-out ban.

“All those who advocate for the use of leaf blowers...are hoping to benefit by making others suffer,” resident Megan Brook said during a during public comment period. She expressed concern that the manufacturer and landscaping representatives would misguide the task force because of conflicts of interest.

Responding to these criticisms, the council requested that the city manager appoint a health expert to the task force.

Cambridge wouldn’t be the first city to eliminate the leaf-clearing power-tools. Carmel, Calif., abolished the blowers in 1975—saying they constituted “a public nuisance”—and Beverly Hills followed suit the next year, according to the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, an advocacy group based in Montpelier, Vt. About 20 cities in the Golden State have enacted bans, according to the clearinghouse.

Japanese engineers invented the blowers in the early 1970s, and the tools gained popularity over the next two decades—with annual U.S. sales nearing 2 million by the late 1990s, according to a report by a California state agency.

That agency, the Air Resources Board, added in a 1999 report that health effects—which stem from carbon monoxide exhaust, particulate matter, and carinogenic compounds in gasoline—were particularly damaging for workers who use the devices.

Sue Butler, a board member of the advocacy group Green Decade Cambridge, also urged councillors to consider the ecological impact of blowers. She advocated leaf-raking instead.

“If you can do something burning your own calories rather than electricity or gasoline, it will be better for the environment and better for you,” Butler said.

No one at the meeting rose in defense of the blowers. But the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade association, says that blowers present an “extremely efficient” way to save time and labor.

PARKING AND PARKS

The city manager also reported to the council on policies designed to decrease Cambridge’s gasoline consumption.

“To foster better fuel efficiency by residents, businesses, and institutions, the City will assess ‘feebates’ and other incentives to encourage the use of fuel-efficient vehicles and continue efforts...to reduce reliance on single-occupancy driving,” the manager’s report read.

Councillor Henrietta Davis asked the city manager to be more specific about actions to provide such incentives. She asked if drivers of hybrid and high-efficiency vehicles would get preference for parking permits.

“We’re looking into it,” Healy said.

Councillors were not eager to give up the parking privileges of their office.

Councillor Craig Kelley proposed a policy order calling for high-level city officials’ reserved parking spaces to be converted into public spots.

The policy order was defeated in a roll-call vote, with Kelley submitting the only vote in favor.

However, the council did not forget the needs of Cantabridgians’ four-legged friends, and asked the city manager to pursue the creation of a dog park on Pacific Street in Cambridgeport.

“As a responsible dog owner, you become a more responsible citizen as neighbors get to know each other and take care of each other,” said resolution supporter Gina Bilander of the Cambridge Dog Owners’ Group.

—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at vafisher@fas.harvard.edu.