SANTA CRUZ -- A local task force is in the early stages of studying whether to regulate leaf blowers -- the always-droning, often-jarring, go-to staple of the landscape industry.
More than a dozen California cities have special rules for the backpack-sized machines, with several -- Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles among them -- banning gas-powered versions outright. Critics call them a noisy headache that kicks up dust and pollutes the air.
"We see fit to destroy the sound scape in vain pursuit to perfect the landscape. It's crazy," said Ken Foster of Terra Nova Landscaping, who stopped using blowers years ago. "There's a lot of other ways we can achieve beauty."
Foster is organizing the inaugural meeting of the task force in early February. He is hoping to draw as many interested parties and as much input as possible on what can, or should, be done.
The first order of business is to articulate the problem, Foster said. After that, he wants to research what works in other communities -- whether it's restrictions, a ban or just education -- before possibly taking recommendations to local governments.
The California Landscape Contractors Association opposes leaf blower bans, while acknowledging concerns about their operation. The group makes several recommendations on their use, including noting there rarely is cause to use blowers on full throttle.
But the Sacramento-based group maintains leaf blowers
"Leaf blowers are essential for landscape maintenance professionals," the group said in a statement.
Phil Roberson, owner of Aloha Landscape, said leaf blowers are a necessary evil, particularly when it comes to large commercial clients. He said he instructs employees about proper leaf blower operation, but without them "there is no business."
"I actually can't stand leaf blowers," Roberson said. "It's the most efficient way, when you're paying employees, to clean up a job."
There are electric leaf blowers -- though Santa Monica bans even those -- and while Foster said they're preferable, they still don't address the issue of kicking up particulate matter, which can include pesticides, fecal material or brake dust.
"It's a little bit like organic heroin. No matter how much effort you put into being ecological, it's still a bad idea," Foster said.
While the primary driver of regulations is noise -- the machines sound like a bumble bee with an amplifier -- environmentalists also are focusing more on leaf blowers and other equipment with small combustion engines.
However, neither the city of Santa Cruz nor the county address two-stroke engines in their plans to minimize climate change.
Since they burn both oil and gas, two-stroke engines can release more emissions into the environment than passenger trucks. And studies have shown two-stroke marine engines can splutter a quarter of their fuel, unused, into the water.
The Landscape Contractors Association calls air emissions a "spurious issue," citing tougher state emissions standards and leaf blowers' intermittent use. It also said any regulation on those grounds should be left to state and federal authorities.
For nearly two decades, the state Air Resources Board has enacted tougher restrictions for all two-stroke engines. Some local jurisdictions have even tougher rules on them, with older marine engines banned on Lake Tahoe and some Santa Clara County reservoirs, for example.
And when personal watercraft such as Jet Skis were banned from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited not only their erratic operation, but also reports noting two-stroke engine pollution.
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IF YOU GO
Leaf blower task force
WHAT: Inaugural meeting
WHEN: 7-9 p.m. Feb. 7
WHERE: Ecology Action, 877 Cedar St., Suite 240, Santa Cruz
DETAILS: 831-359-5717 or email@example.com