Blow Back

Dear Readers,
DING! Round Two of the Blower Ban Bout goes to Mayor “Battlin’ Bruce” Williams. Roused out of his stunned silence in Round One last week after “Citizen Seth” Grimes socked him with a letter proposing a city ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, Williams this week jumped into action with a deft sidestep.

With moves worthy of his predecessor and coach former mayor Kathy Porter, Williams used all the passive-aggressive powers at his command, never directly challenging the proposal, even acquiescing to a hearing on the subject (in January), but noting with his best concerned-dad face that the city has never “banned things,” and wondering aloud if, gee, that would be “an effective course of action.” He said it could be part of a discussion of an overall 5 year environmental plan for the city already being formulated.

Perhaps, he said, the city’s Committee on the Environment should have an expanded role and membership, slyly suggesting some of the 31 signers of the Blower Ban letter might like to join.
The mayor, his wet blanket oozing all over the podium, listed probable exceptions to a blower-ban: elderly people, landscapers, schools, public parks, etc.

Your Gilbert pulls out his solar powered hair drier to mitigate the mayoral moisture. Elderly people could use electric blowers, which are safer and easier. The same goes for all the the others. If they don’t have a source of electricity (there are such things as extension cords and even exterior electric outlets!), then there is THE RAKE. The fact that people, even big, brawny types, recoil in horror at the mention of A RAKE speaks volumes about how coddled, wasteful, lazy and pathetic our society has become. This alone is grounds for banning these pernicious machines. Survival of the species is at stake! The last human will die hopelessly flipping the on switch of his out-of-gas leafblower, unable to clear a path to his car so he can drive the half a block to the store for food. We’re doomed, DOOMED!!!

That said . . . Your Gilbert takes a deep, calming breath, ahh! . . . and admits that a comprehensive plan might be a better idea than passing one-issue ordinances. This is the gripe we have had with the city’s “foreign policy,” a number of one-issue declarations or ordinances decrying human-rights violations in whatever oppressed-county-of-the-week has the left’s short attention span. A resolution supporting human rights and perhaps setting forth a list of human-rights standards we wish to see in another country, regardless of ideology or “national interest” (or in the city’s case “the cause-du-jour”) before we buy their products. We should do that if only to shame the US Government into doing the same. But, we digress.

Back to banning. It is not quite correct to say the city does not ban things. Leaf and rubbish burning are banned, for example. Firearms are banned also. These are banned because they are life- and property-threatening. Are not greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution life- and property-threatening, also? A host of other things are banned: junked cars, unkempt lawns, lost-pet signs, trash in the yard. We go to these intrusive lengths for the sake of property values and our citizens’ aesthetic sensibilities, so why not go to such lengths for the sake of their air and climate? And the city’s recycling program already bans mixed trash for environmental reasons, effectively forcing citizens to do the work of separating their trash – yet this intrusion into this most private area of domestic life has raised not a peep of protest.

So, yes, perhaps a comprehensive environmental plan is called for. The city should, where possible, evaluate the costs and benefits of a wide number of actions, and chose the ones that would be the most effective. Most of those options would be positive (using or creating alternative energy sources, or improving storm water drainage, for example), but they should also equally consider such options banning gas-powered leaf blowers, banning gas-powered lawn mowers, and banning plastic bags.

The Citizen Comment period was postponed so the council could first hear from county councilmember Valerie Ervin. Ervin told the city council the same tale of woe they’d heard from county councilmember Marc Elrich the week before. Because of low tax income in the current poor economy, expect the county and state to cut services, she said.

City councilmember Dan Robinson persisted in his drive to encourage other county municipalities to incorporate. He was not as straightforward about it as he had been to Marc Elrich (who made every effort to puncture Robinson’s tires). Instead he spoke of how he’d like to get together with Ervin and discuss “counties and cites,” what each are good at, what it is that cities do well, and what “stronger role” they could take. Heh heh heh.

Most of the meeting was taken up with a presentation about mansionization and how to avoid it. Councilmember Josh Wright must have been happy, he’s only asked “can we talk about mansionization, now?,” like, a zillion times for the last three meetings. Underscoring the immediacy of the issue was a resident who spoke about such a case during Citizen Comment. A house on Cedar Ave. had been torn down and rebuilt by a house that was, she said, out of scale with surrounding houses.

Historic Takoma’s representative said a loophole in the law allows for developers to tear a house down to three walls, then “add” a monstrously larger building which is considered “remodeling.”

Look forward, Dear Reader, to future ordinances addressing this issue.

Also look forward (November 17th) to a review of the city’s sign ordinances. Diligent Readers will recall the recent council discussions which revealed that there are no public places to legally post a lost-pet or yard-sale notice. Hopefully, the council will find a way to make exceptions for such public notices.

Disturbing information was shared during Citizen Comment by residents of Takoma Overlook, the former Hampshire Towers. According to them, the new owners, Tenacity Group, have made rent increases without properly informing residents. One of the residents, a blind man, said his unit had been sold without notification to him, subverting his right to purchase it before it was put up for sale. The council said the city would look into the matter.

Seth Grimes, the presenter of the blower-ban letter (and mayoral candidate in the last city election), and apparently a man with a tight schedule, reports that he was prevented from addressing the issue during Citiizen Comment, because that segment was postponed for the sake of county councilmember Ervin’s report. He says he will be making those remarks at the next meeting.

– Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

9 Comments on "Blow Back"

  1. Thanks for the coverage Gilbert.
    One precision: I didn’t say I was prevented from commenting by the schedule change. I did understand the reason for the change and I did stay to speak since the session with Councilmember Ervin was alloted 20 minutes. It had gone on at least double that when, as I mentioned to you, I left at 8:43 pm. Several folks did stick it out to comment. I’d like to see public comments scheduled before council comments out of respect for folks who go out of their way to attend a council meeting.

  2. Sabrina Baron | October 26, 2008 at 1:39 pm |

    One correction, dear Gilbert. In my testimony on mansionization I referred to the loophole in zoning that allows for all but 3 (that’s THREE) walls of a house to be torn down and it can still be considered remodelling rather than a tear down and rebuilding.
    Sabrina Baron
    Historic Takoma, Inc.
    Correction made, thank you’!”
    – Gilbert

  3. Bruce Williams | October 26, 2008 at 6:02 pm |

    Gilbert–while resting in my corner after round two, and trying to get the ringing sound from the bell quieted, I have a couple corrections to your post. First, Steve Davies presented the letter two weeks ago requesting that we look into a ban, not Seth Grimes.
    Secondly, I would stand by my observation that the City doesn’t ban things, we regulate them and may put limits on them. We currently regulate noise emanating from among other things, leaf blowers–you can’t sell, buy or use any blower or other power lawn equipment that is louder than 70dBA at 50′. You also can’t use them more than 2 hours in any 24 hour period, and you can only use them in the daytime.
    We also place limitations on among other things, barking animals, repeated faulty alarms, and the City collecting trash before 6:30 in the morning unless it is forecast to be over 90 degrees that day.
    Finally, we don’t ban guns, but we do require them to be kept locked up under certain circumstances, and we state that they can’t be fired unless it is “necessary to protect life or property or to kill any dangerous threatening animal”. We also allow them to be fired in a private basement target range; or if you are firing blanks in performances or parades. You also can’t possess them in “places of public assembly”.

  4. Goodness! You Dear Readers are nit-picky this week! Three comments with corrections within a few hours of posting!
    Not being able to possess a firearm in a place of public assembly seems very much like a ban to us. But, if His Honor prefers the term, perhaps the activists should call it not a ban but a “limitation” on leaf-blowers, and they might have better success.

  5. Steve Davies | October 26, 2008 at 9:43 pm |

    Thanks for the shout-out, Bruce.
    A couple of points: “Daytime” is defined in the city code as 7 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays. I’d rather see “sundown” in there.
    Also, the weak language on blowers (70 decibel at 50 feet) does not prevent two, three, even four blowers operating at once. That is according to the police. So long as each blower is within the guidelines, multiple blowers on a property are A-OK.
    No one can enforce 2-hour limits over 24 hours. That’s one of the many reasons a ban makes sense. It would be easy to enforce. You simply tell people: You cannot use these things. End of story.
    I also ask you and others knowledgeable about our history with the tree ordinance to reflect and report back on whether, in the past, Takoma Park made it so difficult to cut down trees that the ordinance, in effect, amounted to a ban.
    Banning is a form of regulation. A prohibition on gas-powered leaf blowers is well within the city’s police power, which is used to regulate nuisances. I will research this further, but I do not believe any ban (and there are many, of varying levels of severity) has ever been successfully challenged in court.
    It would be nice to see Takoma Park do something about pollution instead of approving plans of action (like the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, in the year 2000), signing up for agreements (the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement), and generally pontificating about what it will do (in the future) about “carbon footprints” and “sustainability.”
    Ultimately, some of the worst sources of pollution must be curbed. Lawn care’s contribution to climate change and ozone pollution is something the city has the authority to address. The question is, does it have the will?

  6. Lawrence Silberman | October 29, 2008 at 11:12 am |

    In the past and in the present Takoma Park has made it so difficult to remove a tree that it amounted to a ban.
    At 12 Jefferson Avenue my homeowners insurance was canceled because of a dangerous tree. I could not obtain other insurance. The tree comission ruled that being without insurance was not a financial burden. The arborist perjured himself under oath when he spoke of having examined the tree and its condition. He couldn’t tell the difference between concrete in a tree and wood. When I later found this out and did finally after 9 received permission to remove the tree I was halted for not having a tree permit.The Tree hit the house without insurance. The arborist arrived with permit in hand. I still cannot obtain insurance, and cannot borrow money without insurance
    The City has lost thousands of dollars in tax revinue and I a place to quietly die.

  7. Steve Davies | October 31, 2008 at 12:20 am |

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Lawrence, though I’m sorry to hear about it.
    For a long time, any resident of the city could oppose a tree removal application, even if s/he lived miles away. That has since been changed, but it shows the lengths the city would go for its trees.
    Mayor Williams tried to contrast the leaf blower effort with the foie gras and cage-free chicken resolutions, and bottled water purchasing restrictions (and Burma, and the Nuclear Free Zone).
    The resolutions are educational, the mayor said, and the nuke-free and bottled water regs are simply city purchasing restrictions.
    True enough. But I doubt the city has the legal authority to ban bottled water throughout the city, even if it wanted to. Nor could it prevent people from eating or selling foie gras.
    But air pollution is different. It affects everyone. Really, we’re talking here about the common good. Shouldn’t we be trying to do what’s best for the vast majority of residents? All I hear from people opposed to action on this issue is concern for the poor lawn care companies, the owners of apartment buildings, and all those senior citizens and physically challenged folks who simply must have their gasoline-powered leaf blowers.
    What about the rest of us? Leaf blowers are — for purposes of regulation — a public nuisance, and the city can ban them using its police power.
    This is from the City Code:
    “The following are nuisances within the scope and meaning of this article:
    A. Whatever is dangerous to life or health;
    B. Whatever renders air or food or other drink unwholesome or unfit for the use of man;
    C. Any odor or exhalations which are offensive to the inhabitants or dangerous to the public health…”
    “Whatever renders air … unwholesome.” “Whatever is dangerous to life or health.” Sounds pretty broad. And considering blowers’ contribution to the formation of ozone–shown to be dangerous to public health and to trees and other vegetation–I don’t see how one could deny that we have the authority to give them the heave-ho.
    Just for fun, here’s another excerpt from the same section:
    “No person shall expose publicly any article of clothing or other laundry for the purposes of drying or airing within 20’ of any public sidewalk in this City unless the article is effectively screened from public view.”
    I guess that means I won’t be putting up a clothesline in my front yard…
    By the way, the city’s noise control ordinance states: “The intent of this noise control ordinance is to control noise sources to protect public health and to allow the peaceful enjoyment of property. This noise control ordinance shall be liberally construed to carry out this intent.”
    “Public health” and “the peaceful enjoyment of property” are the goals. Coulda fooled me.
    Takoma Park should be a regional leader in making substantive improvements to our environment. We don’t have to wait — for COG, for EPA, for the state. We can do it here.
    “Think locally, act locally.”

  8. Gerald Higgins | November 4, 2008 at 7:57 am |

    About the noise ordinance: People who walk in Sligo Creek Park on Sundays, when car traffic is limited, make the most ungodly uproar, chattering on their cell phones and yelling out to each other. It seems that many folks feel a ‘release’ when they are immersed in a pastoral setting, releasing their natural inhibitions. Scream out around your own streets 🙂

  9. Steve Davies | November 9, 2008 at 10:58 am |

    Common courtesy and civility has become an endangered species.

Comments are closed.