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Particle Wars in Davis -  What you can’t see can kill you, Part II…

Screenshot from 2021-08-19 17-42-32
The militarization of gardening?

A conversation about the proposed - and not - restrictions on toxic micro-particle hyper-distribution -  a.k.a. “leafblowing” - by three of your favorite local activists!

(COVID is Part I)

This evening the City of Davis Natural Resources Commission (NRC) will hold the first of two hearings on possibilities for leaf blowing restrictions. Here’s the memorandum - a supplement to Council’s approval of temporary leaf blowing restrictions from last October. It includes Commission and Staff proposals and results of the surveys on leaf blowing taken which were taken in June.

In summary, they are proposing a gas LB ban, time restrictions and user restrictions. Staff and Commission (sub-committee) proposals are broadly similar. 

What’s very important, however, is that there is a strong likelihood that there will be a complete ban at the state level on gas-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, edgers and so on… including leaf blowers and vacuums, or combined units. This means that any equipment-related ban in Davis that only affects gas blowers will be nothing unique in just a couple of years. 

The meeting is at 6:30pm

 

AirNow08062021
Leaf blowing prohibited on this day?...

AIR QUALITY and wildfire fallout:

Todd Edelman: There is no explanation of why the air quality-based restriction due to wildfire fallout  is based only on official AQI according to current City policy. For example, the very popular and relatively inexpensive Purple Air system could be used.  And Purple Air isn’t only used at private residences: The UC Davis environmental engineering dept has one on its roof for experiments. Lake County Air Quality Management District (AQMD) uses them for official monitoring outside of wildfire situations. The New Jersey Transit Authority seems to also use them for official purposes. Sutter Davis Hospital has them on their roof and inside. The elementary school at Beale Air Force Base has one, as does the Yolo Solano AQMD office in south Davis - they say they use it to recognize “trends”.

But perhaps the most important use of Purple Air is to determine local impacts of leaf blowing...

Previewonleafblowerstoryno2
Nope... no new restrictions if the air's bad AFTER 7:30am...

Darell Dickey: I have trouble with the concept that we can only ruin our air quality when the air is otherwise pretty good. We’re going to avoid dirtying the air when it is already bad? And then there’s my favorite part: Blowing will always create a local situation of AQI over 100, which should result in an immediate ban on blowing. 

I’m thinking that a good, logical way to present this is that if we’ve all agreed that 100 AQI is “bad enough” for us to ban activities that make it worse, then we should never be allowing the use of devices that make the AQI 100+. And this circles back to local air quality vs. relying entirely on one spot of data that’s outside of town to determine what we’re breathing in our neighborhoods at any given moment. 

If AQI 100+ is bad anywhere, then stop creating AQI 100+!

TE: There is nothing about how they determine how much ash is on the ground, though this is a condition of the lift of any AQI-based restriction according to current City policy. I have voiced this concern many times.

There were several times when the official AQI went over 100 during the day but not before 9AM; this was not mentioned in the memorandum, though I brought it up repeatedly in August in emails to the NRC.

LEAF-BLOWING, WILDFIRE SMOKE AND COVID-19

The proclamation from October 2020 that resulted in temporary leaf-blower restrictions mentions “COVID-19” 10 times, yet the current memorandum only mentions it once, and not directly in relation to smoke effects on those with who have COVID. Further, the October 2020 mentions no specific research at that time on wildfire smoke and COVID, but there’s new research not mentioned in the memorandum. 


AIR QUALITY, general:

TE: As far as I can tell leaf vacuums distribute lots of dust, and as they pick up inorganic matter as mentioned in the memorandum, I don't see how they will be allowed. But still, do people think that these things work as HEPA interior vacuums?

DD: True. But “lots of dust” from a vacuum situation is still way better than any blowing. It all needs to be in perspective as we’ll never arrive at “perfect.” Same way that electric cars aren’t perfect, but are better than gas cars, etc.

TE: Well, I think at least all the most dangerous and invisible stuff comes out the back...

DD: “Most dangerous” is not easy to defend. If the crap being stirred up produces a violent health reaction (allergies, asthma, etc), then the acute “most dangerous” thing is probably coming out the front. At least for those people who are severely affected.

The only way to call any of this “better” is if less crap is being put into the air…. As compared to doing it another way. And IMO, a vacuum is better than a blower. And leaving stuff where it is, is better than all of it.  The timing of the device usage is also important. I vacuum up deep leaves to mulch them and put them where they’ll help the yard vs. choke the plants. And I do it when the leaves are not dusty. It is a relatively benign activity.

Tahoe08222021
Purple Tahoe

 

LABOR:

TE: There's no suggestions related to the labor issue except for what may eventually be affected by a ban on gas-powered blowers. What are their wages, by the way? This is a basic question for labor related actions or studies.

DD: I hate the question where they ask the company how much it will financially destroy them. Of course the answers are all opinion, but it is presented and answered as fact. 

TE: Yes they should give figures or something. Is there possible funding from AQMD to transition out of all leaf blowing?

DD: Also, a significant percentage of landscaping businesses do not use any blowers. 

TE: Why is this? How is this influenced by opinions of consumers and of workers or their managers/companies?

DD: From what I can tell, the biggest concern from the citizenry is that they may have to pay more to the poor, under-paid folks. You know… the folks that they’re really concerned about harming with…. low wages.

Asking the yard-care business owners how bad it will be if blower use is restricted is like asking El Macero drivers how bad it will be if Mace loses one of its travel lanes. It is a total guess. It is based on everything else not changing. And they simply have no idea what the result would be. Might be higher health and better hourly wages for everybody. But of course most claim that it will just be devastating to their business. I didn’t hear one response about how it would be better for the workers who might get paid more for doing healthier work.

TE: I’ve repeatedly brought up this part of the issue, not only with the NRC, but also the Social Services Commission -- it needs to agree to provide feedback. Though leaf-blowing is not a job based on sustainable practices, there are many related jobs which are, and they require a higher skill-set. Tree trimming, building on-site composting facilities, triage of soil situations? No one should lose their jobs. 

 

LABOR AND PHASE-IN:

TE; There seems to be no scientific reasons for only phasing out gas blowers in City properties except for protecting some companies. Nothing about increasing wages, etc. The proposed start date Jan 1 (2023) is after most of the "leaf season", and over two years since the temporary regulations came into effect. This seems to be about giving enough time to buy new equipment, but this seems like a tiny expense compared to labor.

 

Screenshot from 2021-07-24 05-43-02
Purple Nation

VIBRATION (Sound):

Roberta Millstein: You two are rightly focused on the air quality. But for a broader audience, you might also mention that these things are f*cking loud. Really f*cking loud. And that is for some a big part of why they are hated.

TE: I know that traffic noise is very bad for human health. One thing that’s worse about leaf blowing noise is that it can be unpredictable, especially if one’s neighbor is doing it -- but then also who memorizes the leaf blowing schedules of their neighbors or their yard sterilization services?

While most electric leaf blowers are quieter than gas-powered ones, it’s not guaranteed. And if an electric leaf blower is less powerful than a gas one, people may use it for longer.

 

OTHER:

DD: And the main reason that some give for the “need” of leaf blowers? No other practical way of clearing large paved parking lots. 

TE: Exactly, what are uses of LB's in terms of square footage or acres, etc?

 

CULTURE: 

TE: Yard work is good exercise if the air is clean. It connects one to their yards - even in a rental property - that other exercise outside cannot.

Leaf blowers and vacuums didn't exist in significant numbers until what, the 1980's? What did people do before that? Die, in their yards, under piles of leaves?

 

EFFECT ON TREE AND SOIL HEALTH:

TE: In the Memorandum there's nothing from the Commission or Staff in the recommendations about the benefits of leaving leaves where they fall, even though it’s already recommended on sources linked from the City's Tree pages and others.

The Tree Commission will hopefully offer feedback.

 

EXAMPLES / Best Practice in Other Places:

TE: There is mention of the other jurisdictions which have done partial to full bans, but not by name. They clearly have this list. There is no indication how many suffer significant wildfire fallout, though as many are in California certainly some have, and there's an assumption about why most didn't respond. Two have complete bans… who are they?

 

EFFECT ON OTHER USERS OF ROW (street, greenbelt, or another public space):

TE: There's nothing about how use of blowers contributes to the always non-permitted piles of yard waste in bike lanes. At the October meeting of BTSSC we need to pressure them into agreeing to providing an opinion on this, especially as a related item on yard waste in bike lanes has been sitting in the long-range calendar for many months as TBD. This issue has been going on for many years.

Proposed ban during the week is only til 8AM, even though many are commuting to school or work by then, by pedal or foot. So then they will be exposed full-on as they traverse the City.

Comments

Donna Lemongello

People don't just blow leaves, they blow lots and lots of dirt and fine particles, that's really the whole point. Even when we have the occasional ban there is no enforcement, that is another issue. And then the many many businesses that use them is a huge issue. These workers are so unlikely to revert to raking as the previous generation was used to, even the financial issue of all that extra time aside. And the noise is a separate issue.

Alan Miller

I only hire gardeners who use a rake. Simple.

The trick is having that be the culture of Davis. Maybe we can make inroads with the citizens, but not so much distant landlords.

If we were to inform and educate the citizens and ask them to (maybe) pay a little more for yardwork, problem solved.

Keith

"This means that any equipment-related ban in Davis that only affects gas blowers will be nothing unique in just a couple of years. "

Then why not wait for the state to initiate any such ban if they so desire? Also, telling people that they can no longer use their gas powered yard devices I would think would require any city or state to compensate those people in order for them to switch to electric.

Ron O

Wait a minute - you guys are also proposing a ban on electric leaf blowers?

Todd Edelman

Ron O, the problem starts with the name: "Milk machines"... oh, I mean "cows". These are "toxic micro-particle hyper-distributors" -- the only real benefit is moving leaves out of walkways because they might be dangerous if and when it rains again.... so it's a lie to use the common name for them.

Ron O

I've used electric leaf blowers and lived to tell the tale.

I've also gone out in windstorms which put leaf blowers to shame.

I can't imagine that banning them would have no impact on maintenance costs, passed on to renters (both residential and commercial), for example.

The gas ones are too noisy. There's probably not much need for those at some point, as battery packs have improved.

I believe this is an example of a Davis-type concern (in regard to its "reputation"), and not well thought-out.

Ron O

Wow - per the memorandum mentioned in the article, they are proposing a ban on ALL leaf blowers in 2 years (except for those used on commercial properties and apartment complexes).

And yet, the same memorandum notes a majority lack of support for that recommendation (based upon the survey).

Todd Edelman

Ron O: The costs need to be internalized, but if the particles are internalized but not being blown around, and leaves are left as nature intended... costs for maintenance would be reduced, and negative health effects would be reduced... sure, some owners would want or need to build facilities for on-site composting...

The proposed restrictions exclude electric "leaf blowers".

Ron O

Todd: The proposed restrictions include electric leaf blowers:

Long-term Actions

In 1 year, amend the City ordinance to prohibit all use of gaspowered leaf blowers and vacuums within City limits. Electric blowers
and vacuums still permitted.

In 2 years, amend the City ordinance to prohibit all use of leaf
blowers on residential lots (including single-family homes and
condominiums) and on public property. Electric leaf vacuums still
permitted on these properties; and electric blowers still permitted at
apartment complexes and on commercial lots.

Todd Edelman

Thanks for pointing this out! It makes my arguments even more pointed!

I think what's important is:

1) How rented houses fit in.

2) How this will improve air quality in neighborhoods -- as in many, apartment complexes and commercial properties are immediately adjacent to or interleaved with houses.

3) The in-equity served upon residents of apartment complexes who are certainly of lower income than home owners, if not all home residents (some are renters), as well as workers in commercial properties. Some commercial situations have doors or windows that are open long hours, and some apartments in complexes don't have modernized windows or air filtration. Another way to put this is: Why do wealthier residents deserve more protection from an amended regulation than others?

Ron O

I'm not quite sure what your point or goal is. Sounds like you're advocating for a total ban regarding all leaf blowers, at all properties.

I would think (hope) that people use common sense when operating them (e.g., by not blowing ash from fires toward the immediate vicinity of others). But it's not like there's constant ash, all-year long.

I would agree that if the city is going to pursue the unwarranted (in my view) step of banning all blowers, it should apply to all properties.

I don't see a justification for excluding some properties, vs. others. This differentiation sounds politically-motivated, to avoid provoking apartment complex owners and owners of commercial properties.

Seems to me that the bigger health risk is actual smoke from wildfires, which seems to be increasing in both frequency and duration.

Todd Edelman

We need to prioritize the health of trees, soil, people and animals.

Alan Miller

In that order . . . ;-)

Keith

"Why do wealthier residents deserve more protection from an amended regulation than others?"

I never knew that my leaf blower may be classist. I wonder if it is racist too.
Why does everything go there?

Keith

"In that order . . . ;-)"

I mostly agree Alan except that animals should be prioritized over people.

Todd Edelman

Keith: You may be pleased to know how this "went". The Chair of the NRC, Hannah Safford, recognized the problem with the exception for apartments in the Commission's long-term proposal, and her amendment was approved. The proposal was changed to include all housing in the prohibition of leaf-blowing in the long-term. Commercial properties exempted in their proposal.

So in regards to your comment on Alan's comment, animals and their human companions who are renters will not have to deal with leaf blowing at least in their yards or community areas (of complexes).

PAM Helm

I wholeheartedly support banning leaf blowers. Good causes for doing so have been clearly stated plus the fact that enforcement of any relative ordinance has proven ineffectual.. Does anyone know whether citations/fines have been issued in accordance with ordinances? We deserve the best air quality possible. Banning any form of preventable air pollution should be of the highest priority. Our life depends on breathing.

Todd Edelman

PAM, Thanks. There have been many warnings, but not sure how many fines. It may have been detailed at yesterday's meeting, but I don't recall. I suggest you email the NRC at nrc@cityofdavis.org.

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