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Santa Monica Poised to Crack Down on Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

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By Jorge Casuso

July 19, 2023 -- For nearly a quarter century, gardeners have been blowing off a 1990 Santa Monica law that bans all motorized leaf blowers.

On Tuesday, the City Council is poised to crack down on violators by boosting enforcement against property owners and occupants who use gas-powered blowers and authorizing the use of electric ones.

"Despite the long history of the ban on leaf blowers in Santa Monica, violations are frequently witnessed by City residents and staff," said a staff report to the City Council.

However, enforcement can be difficult since violators can be hard to track and the the Code Enforcement division "has limited capacity to issue citations," staff wrote.

To help crack down on violators, the amended law would allow the use of video-taped evidence and expand responsible parties to include the "property owner, owner, tenant, business owner or manager."

Code enforcers could then target their efforts "at the owners or occupants of property who may either violate this provision or employ those who do, rather than punishing those who may be least able to pay fines."

The proposed amendments would also prohibit "the sound rating of electric leaf blowers that exceed 70 decibels," staff said, noting that gas-powered leaf blowers "often have sound ratings between 80-100 decibels."

The new noise restrictions will ensure that "noise levels will be consistent with the ambient urban noise environment," according to the report.

"As compared to existing conditions where blower violations are commonplace, amendments to the (law) would incentivize a more effective transition to cleaner and quieter electric blowers," staff wrote.

A report issued by the City’s Code Enforcement manager in 2017 found that over the previous three years there had been more than 3,500 reports that Santa Monica's ban on motorized leaf blowers was being violated.

Of the total number of cases reported, slightly more than 500 resulted in tickets being issued despite a $500 fine for first-time violators that was higher than that of neighboring cities ("More Than 3,500 Violations of Santa Monica Leaf Blower Ban Reported in Three Years," May 17, 2017).

Tuesday's anticipated Council action comes as a State measure is set to go into effect next year that requires most newly manufactured small off-road engines, like those in leaf blowers and lawn mowers, to be zero emission.

The measure -- approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2021 -- "allows residents to operate current CARB-compliant gasoline-powered equipment."

It does not, however, ban the use of older models or used equipment purchased in the future.

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