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Leaf blowers: "choked out by neighbors' lawn service"

Question from Kim of Los Angeles, California:

Leaf blowers with their little two stroke engines (I am guessing), how do we combat them? I am being choked out by the neighbors’ lawn service… Any ideas?

Answer from faircompanies:

Interesting, being from Los Angeles, you should ask this question. You’re at the epicenter of leaf blower debate. In the mid-70s, these two-stroke-engined (you’re right about that) tools were introduced in the U.S. to deal with the California drought. The City of Los Angeles actually mandated their use to avoid the wasted water being used to clean pavements. 

In 1998, with the help of Hollywood (supporters included actors Meredith Baxter, and Peter Graves), Los Angeles banned gas blowers- technically, it’s a distance restriction of within 500 feet of a residence, though it’s commonly referred to as a ban.

Proposals have been debated, and passed, across the country since then, often based on noise pollution complaints, but also in response to the engine fumes, as well as all that gets blown into the air besides leaves: mold, pesticides, etc.

On the website for ZAP (Zero Air Pollution), a group founded to fight for the L.A. ban, they cite an article from 1997 that says there were 300 across the country (40 in California). The California counties they list with bans (or partial bans) are:  

  • Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Claremont, Laguna Beach, Lawndale, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Monica (all blowers), Sunnyvale, Albany, Bakersfield, Belvedere, Carmel, Coronado, Davis, Del Mar, Downey, Hermosa Beach, Hillsborough, Malibu, Newport Beach, Ojai, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Pasadena, Piedmont, Redondo Beach, San Marino, Solana Beach, Town of Tiburon, West Hollywood, Woodside. “There may be more.”

The Los Angeles ban is enforced through neighbor complaints, so if you’d like to do so, you should check out the ZAP website where they list more information about the local and California laws and where to call to report an offender.

Assuming you’re not the confrontational type, you could also talk to your neighbor about options. Assuming he’s not interested in the extra exercise involved with sweeping or raking, he, or his service, could use an electric blower. They’re relatively cheap, only about $75, and come in two types:

  • Cord-operated blowers- this works for areas close to the house (close enough to plug in).
  • Rechargeable, cordless, blowers- you can blow further away from the house, but the time between recharges is limited to 15 minutes.

If you need a bit of ammunition to help you convince your neighbor of why he should make a switch- assuming he or she is a Family Ties fan-, you could try quoting Meredith Baxter: “Are we going to put gas masks on our kids? It flies in the face of all rational thinking to continue using leaf blowers.” 

Or for a more nuanced way to look at it, perhaps you just need to convince your neighbor to rethink his definition of clean. When a ban was being debated in Santa Cruz, city councilman Mike Rotkin summed it up as a keeping-up-with-the-Jones issue: “It’s like cleaning house. You can never get a house totally clean. It can always be cleaner. Well, you can never totally clean your yard either. When you did it with a rake or broom, there was a practical limit on how clean you could get it. Now with leaf blowers, people spend hours looking for perfection.”

Good luck. I’ll keep you posted when I hear of a solar-powered version, which, by the way, is now an option for lawn mowers and interestingly enough, the sales line for the Sun Whisper solar-powered mower is: “Your neighbors will love you!”