This is going to cost you! That’s what the guys who use the city’s 5 gas-powered leaf blowers said to the council.
Three Public Works Department workers, including a supervisor, gave the city council the view from the leaf-strewn ground at the Jan. 11 council meeting. If the council bans city-worker’s leaf-blower use, one worker said, they’d have to “double my staff and budget.” The job of clearing city parks would take three times longer, he claimed.
Another said “I cannot rake every park every morning!” Blowers are faster, enabling the staff to cover several parks each day, and are “a tool we rely on very, very much.” he said.
The city is “stuck for cash,” another worker reminded the council. and the additional cost for time and personnel would be a large cost to the city.
These statements contradict the Public Works Dept. director’s $3-4,000 estimate for additional work-hours if her staff switched from blowers to rakes. A few meetings ago that estimate encouraged the council to take the token step of banning the city’s use of its blowers – all five of them.
When asked about the discrepancy Daryl Braithwaite, the director, said her figure was based not only on an assumption that work-times would have to be extended, but that the park maintenance schedule would go from a 2 week rotation to a 3-4 week rotation. In other words, the parks would not be so well maintained – a sore point for the workers, who said they were proud of their maintenance standards. They said there would likely be complaints if those were lowered.
Bump, Bump, Bump!
Once again the blower ban bites the councils’ ankles! It’s been chewing on them since the ban was first suggested by local environmentalists. Last year the council discussed it, bumped into obstacles, then shoved it onto the Task Force on Environmental Action’s agenda. The task force came back with a recommendation to pass a ban – on residential use, not just city use. Again they discussed it, and bumped into the same obstacles.
In brief the obstacles are: Who would enforce it? The police have too much to do already. What about landscaping services which would undoubtedly charge more or refuse to use rakes? What about a partial ban – certain hours, days, or seasons? What about the elderly? What about those ANGRY VOTERS who want their blowers?
But, the Task Force environmentalists and their vocal constituency were also getting angry, so the council took the path of least resistance – proposing to “set an example” by banning city staff blower use. Lulled by the PWD director’s estimate, they were not prepared for the blow back (no pun intended) from the folks who would be wielding the rakes.
A resident got up to support the workers, saying that the problem was not the Public Works Department blowing leaves on a few large fields, it was the thousands of residents blowing leaves on their “tiny plots.”
Mystified, Torn, and Frustrated
The council was divided and uncertain. Councilmember Colleen Clay said the proposed ban was “not quite hitting the target.” The problem, she said, was residents using blowers under their neighbor’s windows, or commercial firms dispatching 4 guys with blowers to blast “a single leaf” or scrap of paper from a lot. Banning 2-stroke engines (which would include other yard maintenance tools) would be more meaningful, she said.
Councilmember Fred Schultz said he was “mystified” by the different estimates from the Public Works Dept. director and “the men who do the work.” He said his constituents would not support the city spending any more tax revenues. He said “we’ve heard from the staff, and I believe them.”
Saying he was torn on the issue, councilmember Terry Seamens
was also concerned about a city ban costing more money. He said he’d like to not pass the city-use ban, but go back to looking at a wider ban of some sort.
On the other hand, councilmember Josh Wright expressed frustration that a blower ban has been on the agenda 3 times. He was for passing it and adjusting it later.
Agreeing with Wright that the council can revisit the ban, councilmember Dan Robinson took the long view. The world, he said, is in transition as global warming affects the climate. “The oceans are going to rise,” he said. Therefore he felt an urgency to the issue. The city, he said, should “lead by example.”
Councilmember Reuben Snipper was, like Wright, anxious to vote and move forward. “We’ve talked and talked” about it, he said. He also said adjustments could be made later.
Mayor Bruce Williams said he was sympathetic to the Public Works employees, and he respected their work. However, he was “willing to make this small step.”
The final vote was 4 (Wright, Snipper, Robinson, Williams) in favor, 2 (Seamens and Shultz) opposed, and 1 (Clay) abstention.
The ban went into effect as soon as it was passed January 11.