By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma edged closer Monday night to becoming the first city in the county, and one of the few in the nation, to ban gas-powered leaf blowers.
The Sonoma City Council, on a 3-2 vote, passed the first reading of an ordinance that bans blowers that are powered with an internal combustion engine. Barring any changes, the ordinance will be adopted at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting and take effect Jan. 1.
Mayor Ken Brown and council members Steve Barbose and Laurie Gallian supported the ban. Council members Tom Rouse and David Cook were opposed.
Cook and Rouse advocated for taking the issue to a ballot to let the city’s voters decide the outcome.
Barbose, however, was concerned the ordinance does not go far enough, saying use of electric leaf blowers, which still will be allowed in Sonoma, won’t necessarily address concerns about air and noise pollution.
He said other communities that have enacted total bans have not encountered “dire consequences” as a result of taking that action.
Barbose asked that the ordinance be specifically worded to ban blowers using an internal combustion engine, so that it encompasses devices that run on fuels other than gas.
He also got the council majority to go along with a ban on diesel generators that can be used to power electric leaf blowers, the argument being that the generators can be just as annoying as the sound of a gas-powered leaf blower.
The council’s action followed a lengthy and at times heated public hearing in which the rhetoric was turned up high.
Sonoma resident Allen Olinger characterized supporters of the ban as an uncompromising minority that are attempting to inflict their will on the entire city.
“Neighbors like this didn’t work so well with Anne Frank,” Olinger said. “This is a classic case of tyranny by the minority.”
Olinger’s comparison of ban supporters to Nazi sympathizers drew an audible gasp from the audience, as did comments made by Phoenix Featherstone, who supported the ban and asked Rouse whether he was not satisfied to hear from three local landscapers who also support the ban because they are female.
“Was it that they were females that you weren’t satisfied?” Featherstone asked.
Sonoma screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan, the main proponent of a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers in Sonoma, urged the council to “stand up for the victims of the perpetrators.”
As of 2011, about 20 California cities had bans on leaf-blowers in place, including Belvedere, Beverly Hills, Carmel, Del Mar, Malibu, Santa Monica, Mill Valley, Berkeley and Palo Alto. Other cities restrict hours of operation, or allow only electric or battery-powered blowers.
The hours during which Sonoma residents could use an electric leaf blower would remain unchanged. Those hours in residential areas are between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and in city parks on the same days between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Under the new ordinance, however, residents who blow dust and debris onto a neighbor’s property could be slapped with a citation.
(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521.5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)