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Evanston City Council members held off action June 14 on an issue kicking up hot debate in the community – whether now is the time to place restrictions on noise-emitting gas-powered leaf blowers.
Council member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, made the motion to table, recommending that she and her colleagues use the summer months to engage with residents and landscaping contractors who have raised concerns about the economic impact of some of the restrictions.
Her proposal calls for the Council to develop a revised ordinance that reflects the City’s ultimate goal to phase out leaf-blower use. She called for the issue to be brought back for discussion at the Council’s second meeting in September.
In the meantime, Alderperson Revelle told Council members, “There really is a range of views in the community about leaf blowers, and this [current debate] underscores the need for us to build community understanding about the reasons to further limit the use of leaf blowers in Evanston”
The proposal had spurred intense debate in the community.
The City’s Environment Board, a citizens group, brought the most recent proposal to the Council, citing “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.”
Some of the restrictions Council members proposed included shortening the hours leaf blowers may be used. At present, leaf-blowers may be used weekdays from current 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the proposal would keep the 7 a.m. start time but mandate a 4 p.m. end.
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 with escalating fines for repeated violations.
Council members amended the ordinance further at the June 14 meeting. Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, combining suggestions from Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, proposed extending the current regulation past Sept. 30 to Oct. 15.
And Mr. Reid’s motion, incorporating a suggestion from Ms. Fleming, proposed the hours of use from 9 a.m., to 5 p.m. Ms. Fleming had suggested the 7 a.m., starting time was a “little aggressive,” given community members noise concerns.
Speaking during public comment at the June 14 meeting, Dr. Clark Elliott, a Second Ward resident, told Council members, “Let’s be clear, we are talking about unbelievably loud, highly polluting commercial blowers and mowers that run in our neighborhoods for up to 20 hours a week. So, number one, please [mandate] all-electric devices, for the good of all of us — the residents, our kids, our neurological systems, landscape workers’ health, and our country.
“We have perfectly viable all-electric commercial battery-powered options now and we need them,” he said, “and, by the way, they are a lot quieter than the electric and gas- powered devices,” he concluded.
But Tom Klitzkie, general manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, which has been based in Evanston more than 40 years, spoke of the economic hardship to that business and fellow landscape contractors.
“To date, Nature’s Perspective has made significant investments in electric battery-powered equipment that’s complying with the current leaf-blower ordinance,” he said. “The cost of an electric machine is typically about two to three times the cost of a gasoline-powered blower counterpart.
“We’ve also made significant capital investments in our propane-powered leaf blowers.
“We made these investments to not only meet the requirements of the existing ordinance, but also because they are significantly quieter, cleaner and better for the environment than their gas counterparts.
“Making these investments is difficult and costly, even for a business and company of our size. It would be cost-prohibitive for companies that are just getting started or significantly smaller than us to make these investments,” he told Council members.
But Kyle Campbell, another speaker, disagreed with Mr. Klitzkie. He said, “There’s a body of evidence that has been built up over the past several years as communities across the U.S. – cities like Berkeley, California; Brookline, Massachusetts; and Washington, D.C. – [ban leaf blowers] against such ‘doomsday scenarios’ taking place.
“There’s been no change in property values, no reports of mass layoffs of landscaping workers in these cities,” he maintained.