Should Leaves Go Blow Themselves?

Drew Badham has just about had it with this city.

The small-business owner -- who describes himself as “an extreme liberal, by the way” -- says every year the Seattle City Council passes a new policy that cuts into his profit margin, which in turn cuts into the amount of tax he pays to the city.

But this latest one has him really huffing and puffing and ready to blow City Hall down.

“It’s simple: It’s a complete nightmare if they ban leaf blowers,” the owner of The Lawn Ranger in Ballard says. “Every time the city council does something like this, we have to increase the (price).”

To be clear, there’s no proposal to ban leaf blowers, yet. But three council members do ask in the proposed 2014 city budget that the Department of Planning and Development study how the city might go about reducing or eliminating noise from the machines, which smack many as a polite way to ask “how can we get rid of the damned things.”

And apart perhaps from keeping dog shit off the sidewalk, it’s hard to imagine a city objective more responsive to the petty annoyances of city life. The two-stroke leaf blowers seem to start grinding at the crack of dawn and at the slightest provocation. On a sidewalk in Belltown earlier this week, despite the maple trees having already shed the bulk of their leaves, a few late fallers had prompted an apartment caretaker to fire up his gas-powered machine to vanquish the deciduous detritus. The 9 o’clock hour had yet to pass. The same morning, on Twitter, a few influential New Yorkers were begging Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make a leaf-blower ban a final act of his administration.

“It’s not a new topic, but as we end up having more people living closer to each other we have to be more conscious of our impact on each other,” says Councilman Nick Licata, who sponsored the budget provision along with Richard Conlin and Tom Rasmussen. “It’s about being proactive in seeing how we can make the city more livable; making it more, I would say, a bit mellower.”

Licata emphasizes that the budget only calls for a study of the issue, which would be presented in September of next year. Nothing happens quickly in Seattle, even the elimination of gas-powered racket-makers.

Still, it has users of the machines like Badham fired up. He admits they sound awful – “I hate the sound of them. Nobody argues that point” – but he says it’s unrealistic to expect everyone in the lawn care industry to just start raking up leaves again, at least if they’re going keep charging anything close to what they do now.

He acknowledges he has a few customers who “want every leaf” blown away in real time as they fall, but that’s a tiny minority.

And what really grinds Badham’s gears is the fact that the City of Seattle currently operates a huge fleet of leaf blowers – the parks department owns 125, according to The Seattle Times – and poorly at that.

“The worst offender is always the city. Their crews are just not very well trained,” he says. “If my guys are running the blowers for five minutes, they city will be running them for 20 minutes.”

Perhaps the city should mind its own shop before it starts meddling with the private sector.

Licata is open to that – he’s open to everything, he emphasizes. But he’s not about to drop the issue.

“It’s a legitimate issue, and we do hear from people who have complaints,” he says. “It’s an issue we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to, or, to be more appropriate, a deaf ear.”

 
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