Progress is progress, but perhaps lost in the progress to reduce the harm caused by leaf blowers to creatures large and small - with university degrees, naked, multi-legged or winged - is the need to make sure that changes in practice don't interfere with the ability of property maintenance workers to make a living and to improve their work environment, wages and skill sets... all while improving nature in our corner of the Universe.
This evening the City Council will take the long-awaited next step to study the use of leaf blowers in Davis. The agenda item should start on or after 7:20pm.
First of all I appreciate the findings of the Natural Resources Commission, though I wish their recommendation was for an earlier complete phase out than 2024. A major fault, however, is that the recommendations do not apply to commercial areas. The problem seems obvious: Pollution caused by gas blowers or stirred up by electric blowers affects adjacent properties - which may be residential, part of the proposed eventual ban - and really everywhere because of, you know, air.
Another way to look at it is that we currently ban leaf blowing when AQI reaches 1oo if that threshold is crossed by just before 7AM - and then there's no decision for a ban for another 24 hours no matter how many firestorms spring out of hell during the interval - based on an air monitor that's outside of the City, just south of West Village. But then it's okay for your commercial neighbor to blow 20 feet from your open window with your asthmatic child.
That doesn't make sense and it's perhaps I am not explaining it clearly... but I make no apologies: The proposal, though an improvement on the current state of things, is too complicated and therefore hard to enforce. By the way, commercial properties are also the residences of numerous animals who simply happen not to be human.
Yards are Habitat!
Leaf blowing makes yard clearance of what's perceived as waste far too easy. This kills habitat for creatures small and larger ones that eat them.It depletes trees of food. It makes it easy to put yard waste in the street, including bike lanes, even though the latter is not allowed. This threatens children on bikes. Leaf blowing is dangerous for children and other living things. It's been city guidance for years to let leaves degrade where they fall, or alternatively compost them on site. (Clean those concrete paths with a broom and a rake, very clever!)
The choice is simple: Phase out all use of all leaf blowers, allow leaf vacuums IF they don't also pollute, and ban gas-powered equipment. Do this all as soon as possible.
There's also a recommendation from the Recreation and Parks Commission based on their perspective which is that gas blowers work better than electric blowers so there needs to be more money for lots of batteries and such like -- but the way I see it is like this: In relation to air quality and the state of living environment in the city, the NRC has clear priority over Rec and Parks. It's a mistake to consider them equal - or equally relevant - Commissions on this issue.
It's time to bring a labor angle into this, friends!
There's more Commission missions about the emissions missing from these missives: About labor. All these guys - mostly guys - disproportionately Latino - who need jobs, jobs that are good for them, get better and give them more in healthy challenges and pay.
The leaf blowing survey results in the staff report and Commission recommendations detail the nuances of companies and how they work and what tools they use. It's not really explained why some use manual tools and some use electric - aside from the AQI-based bans. But to make things simple let's say that banning the use of blowers increases the amount of work needed, and expenses. With a deep ecological perspective it's simple to say that the people that benefit most from this - owners of properties - are simply entitled. The leaf blowing solution is artificial.
It's not pleasant work. We need to humanize it. The goals here likely to keep the same number of people employed and to increase wages, while we improve the environment. It has to be this. We can't settle for less.
Our aim must be to improve the skill sets of workers, by having them care in a more nuanced way for yards... to plant, to collect acorns, to add habitat for bees... to build boxes and other structures for on-site composting.
We don't have a labor commission, but we do have a Social Services Commission. Perhaps also Utilities or Fiance and Budget have a role to play? Overall - and clearly - this is an equity issue and it can't be solved only through input from Natural Resources and Parks and Rec. But to be clear, it's up to the workers themselves to decide what they want.
The Council needs to go forward on the best recommendations made so far but then send this work back to these additional commissions and the citizens for more input and wisdom. We have a tremendous number of experts in related disciplines at UC Davis who will want to help. We have labor experts in the county and region who have to help. It's not simply a matter of copying best practice from other progressive cities, but improving upon it!