Douglas Sieker stepped outside his North Redondo Beach home last week, took a breath of fresh air and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
It was the first full week that Sieker and his wife Elaine could not hear a leaf blower. That’s because last week the city imposed a ban on motorized leaf blowers, both gas and electric.
So far word is slow to get around to gardeners. But, because the city council put the onus on homeowners, some residents are letting their gardeners know it would be the homeowner who would pay the fine.
If a resident or their gardener is caught using a leaf blower in Redondo Beach there is an initial warning followed by a series of fines—$100, $200 and then $500—for each subsequent violation. After that, violators would receive a misdemeanor.
So far, however, no fines have been levied as city officials intend to do more community outreach and notifying gardeners, according to Planning Director Aaron Jones.
Telling the neighbors
Soon after the ban on motorized leaf blowers took effect on Aug. 11, the Siekers made up fliers notifying their neighbors about the prohibition and went around the neighborhood passing them out and speaking with people.
“We only had one or two people who didn’t agree with the leaf blower ban and said they would violate the rule,” Douglas Sieker said. "It was a matter of not wanting government to tell them what to do.”
Redondo Beach is actually late to the leaf blower ban game. The city of Los Angeles instituted its ban in the 1990s and similar bans exist in neighboring beach cities including Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. For the past 20 years, leaf blower bans have been spreading across the country.
For the Siekers, leaf blowers started to become more of a nuisance in recent years. When things really started getting bad, Elaine began keeping a notebook. That’s when the couple calculated there were 26 leaf blowers going every six-day period. Along with the frequency, they cataloged the noise level and air pollution.
“My wife would have to shut all the westerly facing windows when the gardeners came one or two doors down from us,” Sieker said. “If we left the windows open we would find our blinds and drapes full of dust.”
The Siekers were told by an arborist that leaf blowers could have been destroying their 20-year-old geranium plants. The arborist told them leaf blowers can push aphids and other insects from grass and leaf clippings into plants, Siekar said.
“We were wondering where all the aphids came from last year, and this looks like it could be it,” he said.
Sieker and his wife took the results of their observations to the city council last year. After several months, the council first passed a resolution in favor of a ban in January with a subsequent vote in July.
City makes adjustment
Along with the residents, the city’s public works crews ditched their motorized leaf blowers last week in favor of rakes and brooms. Public Works Director Ted Semaan said the department purchased an outdoor vacuum to pick up leaves and grass clippings on hard surfaces.
“We're trying it out to see how workable that is before we purchase more,” Semaan said.
Back when the council first took up the matter in January, Semaan said switching to brooms and rakes would take the city’s 23 fulltime personnel roughly five times longer to maintain Redondo’s 14 parks, 19 parkettes, roadway medians and open space.
City staff used leaf blowers approximately 30 hours per week, or 1,500 staff hours per year, Semaan told the council. By switching to brooms and rakes, Semaan estimated it would increase those activities to 150 hours per week or 7,500 hours per year, costing the city an additional $180,000 per year, according to a city staff report.
However, a longtime employee who oversaw ground keeping operations for the city of Los Angeles said they did not experience a significant increase in maintenance costs when they banned leaf blowers.
Councilmember Nils Nehrenheim, the only dissenting vote on the matter in July, said he opposed banning leaf blowers in part because the law would likely not be enforced.
"I’m vehemently opposed to it." Nehrenheim said. "I believe our city needs to stay focused on our core responsibilities. It will hurt our employees and part of our community and people we employ more so than it will do any good."
Resident John Simpson said it was a terrible law.
"If you pass a law that’s not going to be enforced, it causes you to generally have no regard for the laws you pass," Simpson said.
Mayor Bill Brand said the leaf blower ban, like many other laws, would be complaint-based. Just because there is little enforcement does not mean the city should not pass laws, Brand said.
"We've got all kinds of laws on the books. The speed limit on PCH is 30 mph in parts and we don't enforce that either, but we still have a speed limit," Brand said.
To report a leaf blower violation call (310) 937-6677.