Changes to the City’s leaf blower ordinance – including reducing the days and times leaf-blowers can be used and holding property owners responsible for violations – moved a step closer to passage at the April 26 City Council meeting.
Aldermen approved for introduction the staff-recommended changes to the City’s leaf blower ordinance.
Council members are expected to take a final vote in the issue at their May 10 meeting.
The amendments are in line with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP), said Kumar Jensen, the City’s Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer in a memo.
The plan calls for the “phase-out [of] the use of gas-and propane-powered leaf- blowers, lawn mowers and construction equipment; provides a timeline by which they need to be replaced with electric or battery-powered options,” he said.
The proposed changes include shortening the periods that leaf blower use is allowed.
Under the proposed ordinance leaf blowers will only be allowed from March 30 to May 1 and from October 15 to the first Thursday of December.
Responding to concern from residents and a referral from aldermen, the City’s Environment Board brought proposed changes to City staff for consideration. These proposed changes would strengthen Evanston’s approach to regulating leaf-blowing equipment and further the goals of CARP.
“The primary concerns raised include the noise and disruption from leaf-blower use, the negative health impacts of exhaust from fossil-fuel-powered leaf-blowing equipment, harm to soil, dust created through blower use, and the environmental harm caused by blowing debris,” Mr. Jensen wrote in his memo.
The proposed changes include shortening the hours leaf blowers may be used on weekdays from the present 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., to 4 p.m.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the permitted time would be from noon to 4 p.m.
Leaf-blower use would be eliminated altogether on all City-recognized holidays, under the proposed changes.
The term “gasoline-powered” is removed from the ordinance. The ordinance’s penalty and fine structure has been changed to provide for first offenses, and it imposes escalating fines for repeated violations, Mr. Jensen noted. A first offense for unlawful use on restricted days would be a warning. A second offense would entail a $50 fine; a third offense, $100; and each offense thereafter, $150.
The proposal clearly establishes that “the property owner, the contractor and/or anyone else contributing to the violation may be noticed for a violation,” wrote Mr. Jensen, thus clearly establishing that “the property owner will be the primary target for enforcement.”
Leaf-Blowers’ Effect on the Brain
During citizen comment at the City Council’s Planning & Development Committee meeting, several speakers spoke strongly in favor of the changes.
Nina Kraus, a professor at Northwestern University and a biologist whose research includes the effect of sound on the brain, told aldermen that excessive and unwanted sound, such as produced by leaf-blowers, “has biological effects,” and can create “health issues that affect our cardiovascular health or physical health … our cognitive abilities – you know, how we think.
“And, I feel very badly, not only for all of us, but especially for the young men using the leaf-blowers,” she said.
“When [people] think about noise, they think about very loud sounds. And there’s so much biological evidence that is telling us that even moderate-level sounds very much affect our lives and what happens to our brain.”
Alexandria Elliott, a Third Ward resident, spoke in support of the changes and expressed the hope the City would ban leaf-blowers entirely in the future.
“Leaf-blowers literally deafen the people who use them,” she said. “Their noise levels have been deemed unsafe by many organizations, including OSHA, the EPA and more, and those are noise levels that I measure from my front porch when this is taking place four houses down.”
She also declared leaf blowers “an eco-disaster,” blasting “insects, soil biodiversity and habitats at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. They erode, compact, and dry out soil, which harms our plants and trees. They destroy pollinator habitats and, by the way, insects are in nearly every single food chain, one of every three bites of food that we eat.”
She noted that in 2020, State Senator Laura Fine (D-9th) introduced a bill that would ban all gas-powered leaf-blowers in Illinois.
“I think we should support Laura and follow the other cities that have already banned leaf-blowers,” she told Committee members.