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September 20, 2006 

Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers Get Shown the Door in Palo Alto

Leaf blowers. Though outdoor power equipment is music to our ears, to some activists around the country, it is just noise. Most of the readers of this column are probably all too familiar with continued attempts to ban or limit the usage of the leaf blower, primarily at the community level.

As the voice of the outdoor power equipment industry, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is at the forefront working toward mutually beneficial solutions. OPEI is dedicated to ensuring that all regulations are technically reasonable and based on science.

While some legislative initiatives are approached at the state level, it is in individual cities that leaf blowers have become a real issue. As readers are already aware, Palo Alto, Calif., was the source of a contentious debate regarding the use of leaf blowers. On July 1, a ban on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers by consumers and commercial landscape professionals in residential areas went into effect.

The Issue

OPEI, its membership, and the Bay Area Gardeners Association (BAGA) contend that this ban is not only illegal under federal law but also directly goes against explicit agreements made by the City of Palo Alto made with manufacturers and area gardeners in 2000. These agreements included that manufacturers develop leaf blowers that significantly reduce noise and that local gardeners invest in the quietest equipment with the latest technology, be trained in how to use this equipment and obtain certification. Both the manufacturers and the gardeners met these conditions, at considerable expense. Despite this, the City of Palo Alto abruptly voted to enact the ban.

Until recently, the City of Palo ignored requests by OPEI and BAGA for meetings and opportunities to demonstrate the new equipment in order to resolve the situation. Only after the threat of legal action and negative publicity did attorneys from the city agree to meet with industry representatives. Sadly, local politics have apparently trumped the facts based on real scientific knowledge.

The key is to prevent the blower issue or any other equipment ban or restriction from ever reaching this level of concern in communities. OPEI continues to work on both the state and local level to ensure that any restrictions on the operation of any outdoor power equipment are economically reasonable and technically sound.

In most cases (Palo Alto being a notable exception), city and government officials, when presented with accurate information, understand the importance of outdoor power equipment within communities and work with us on legislation. Therefore, OPEI calls on all landscape professionals to work with community residents and officials to prevent adversarial conditions.

What Can You Do to Prevent This Happening in Your Community?

The facts of the matter are that today’s leaf blowers are some of the quietest on the market and exhaust emissions are 85 percent less than older models. Many leaf blowers are quieter than even the quietest vacuum cleaner. Yet, these facts are often blown aside (no pun intended) in the wake of complaints from residents.

The following are some tips that can go along way to help you work within your community to create partnerships to avoid unreasonable restrictions.

• Know what the city, county, and state ordinances are for using leaf blowers. Obey them.

• Encourage the decision makers in the community to learn the facts about outdoor power equipment rather than relying incorrect or one-sided propaganda.

• Get involved early. The most serious threats arise at the local level. As part of the community, make your voice heard.

• Invest in the latest equipment. In some cases, due to engine re-design, new leaf blowers are 75 percent quieter than older versions. In addition, new models also reduce emissions which make the equipment more environmentally friendly as well.

• Make sure your equipment is well-maintained. Equipment that is not maintained reduces the life of the product, creates unnecessary noise and emissions output.

• Reduce the sound of your leaf blower by lowering the throttle speed and by using special nozzle attachments designed to reduce noise even further.

• Most importantly, practice safe and courteous use. Stop blowing if there are people in the area. Reduce noise in populated areas during early morning and early evening hours as much as possible.

• Make sure your employees have read and understand the manual.

If you know of a possible situation that may result in a ban on the use of leaf blowers, want more information on how to be involved in your community on this issue or need additional resources on how to properly operate your leaf blower, please visit, e-mail James McNew ( or Pam Goodell ( or call 703/549-7600.

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