A letter wondering why Santa Barbara residents put up with noxious gas-powered leaf blowers in our neighborhoods asked a good question. Many have battled over this for the quarter century the prohibition has been on the books.
The city long offered a bilingual pamphlet explaining the 1997 ordinance. It’s no longer available on the city’s redesigned website (they’re considering re-adding it). The county air pollution control website gives incorrect information to telephone Santa Barbara police for offenders within the City; the police department now wants citizens to file an online complaint (https://bit.ly/3RtFLZG, not easy to find, it’s called a “Code Problem”).
The problem of illegal blower use has been ignored as “unenforceable” for years. I’ve had SBPD officers tell me they thought gas-powered blowers were acceptable and were unaware of the ordinance. Gardeners tell me, “Everybody does it!” (I don’t care, it’s still against the law.) They say, “It puts me at a disadvantage with other gardeners.” (Not if everyone is held to the same standard.) Some say, “This is a special quiet model.” (The law addresses the gasoline power, not the noise level.)
It’s not just gardeners. Contractors that re-stripe repaired streets use gas-powered blowers to dry their paint. The city now makes the blower regulation part of all street maintenance contracts, but not everyone on the work crew may get the message. Any use of gas-powered blowers is illegal in Santa Barbara, not just leaf blowing.
We have a new police chief who will take office on September 19. Maybe there will be a public opportunity for residents to tell the new chief about things that need attention. I understand there is a budget and a limited number of sworn officers. They might prioritize “real” crime instead. Policing leaf blowers can seem pretty minor, i.e., forgivable, in the scheme of things. But a different perspective might consider the same minor problem to be “low-hanging fruit,” perhaps with a simple remedy.
What if beat patrol officers cruising our neighborhoods stopped when they encounter use of a gas-powered blower? If officers came across someone tagging a building, they’d stop, right? Both are low-level crimes, but still crimes. I’d bet it would take just a few citations with fines to get landscapers to switch to electric blowers.
A dozen Parking Enforcement Officers continually cruise downtown streets for parking violators; can they be authorized to cite blower ordinance infractions as well? The use of gas-powered leaf blowers is a community problem and there may be a community solution. I hope it just needs more citizen energy to be resolved.