Hansen: The price of a blown leaf

August 11, 2011|By David Hansen

If a leaf falls into the ocean and no one sees it, does it make a sound?

Yes, because chances are it got there by a leaf blower.

On any given day, the sounds of leaf blowers echo throughout Laguna Beach, up the hills and into windows like annoying mosquitoes. Pound for pound, they are perhaps the single most significant noise and air polluter ever made.

They are also illegal.

The city of Laguna Beach banned leaf blowers (both gas and electric) in 1993, but like most ordinances of this type that compete against other priorities, it's a challenge to enforce.


But there are citations. In fact, over the last three years, professional landscaping companies were cited about every five days. And the number of citations is slowly creeping up. In 2010, there were 75 citations, up from 68 in 2009, and 61 in 2008, according to the Laguna Beach Police Department.

The first ticket is $100, the second is $200, and the third is $500. After that, the offender is forced to listen to leaf blowers continuously for six months — something like that.

"The landscaping companies dislike the ordinance," said Jim Beres, civilian supervisor for the Police Department.

Beres said when the law came out the city littered the place — so to speak — with fliers in English and Spanish. Plus, the city has issued follow-up notices several times over the years.

So why the weekly whine and howl?

Because it's cheaper.

According to the California Landscape Contractors Assn. (CLCA), there is nothing like an early-morning turbo blast to move leaves around.

"Leaf blowers save enormous amounts of time," the group said in a position paper. "Most landscape industry estimates suggest that it takes at least five times as long to clean a typical landscape site with a broom and rake than it does with a power leaf blower."

If it's so efficient, why do leaf blowers seem to run incessantly?

We don't know.

One of the biggest concerns about gas blowers is the hydrocarbons. It's no secret the little buggers belch like an old diesel.

The Air Resources Board of the California Environmental Protection Agency issued a 60-page report on leaf blowers in 2000 that became either the justification for banning leaf blowers in many cities or the reinforcement of laws already on the books.

"We calculate that hydrocarbon emissions from one half hour of leaf blower operation equal about 2,200 miles of driving, at 30 miles per hour average speed," the report said.

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