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[whitespace] Blower Job

Sunnyvale-After 10 months of twiddling their thumbs, politicians here are blowing off a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers.

Instead, they have bravely punted the matter over to city staff by authorizing a broad study of noise pollution in the city, which will take at least five months to complete. In the meantime, gardeners and rude neighbors can continue to rev up their multi-horse-powered yard-brooms and chainsaws until 10 p.m. if they so desire, a Sunnyvale spokesman concedes.

"It's a question that has raised a lot of other questions," David Vossbrink, Sunnyvale's public relations specialist, says. "Are the definitions appropriate? Are they working? Are there some things that should be tightened up in terms of hours or standards of noise?"

To get at some answers, the study will look at the effect bans and restrictions on power equipment in other cities have had.

Since 1975, when leaf blowers came into vogue during a drought, 18 California cities, including Berkeley, Los Altos, Piedmont, Beverly Hills and Carmel, have enacted outright bans or restrictions. Voters will decide the fate of a leaf-blower ban in Menlo Park next month.

Bans have literally become a cause célèbre, with Hollywood stars like Mission Impossible's Peter Graves, Catwoman Julie Newmar, and Meredith Baxter carrying the anti-blower torch.

But Sunnyvale officials refuse to succumb to star power.

Even the council's top noise-hater, Julia Miller, won't support an outright ban. Miller argues that banning blowers alone won't improve the quality of life; noise pollution in general is the culprit, she says.

"I just want to see noise reduced and pollution reduced," Miller told her colleagues.

She did at least try to get the city to impose tighter hour restrictions on power tools. But the council chose the path of least resistance.

Jim Lincoln, a retired Sunnyvale resident and ban proponent, thinks city council members are out of touch.

One councilmember, Lincoln says, has argued against a ban because it would inconvenience homeowners who want to groom their lawns in the evening when they come home from work. Lincoln contends that not homeowners, but commercial gardeners are the ones using the tools.

"In the 29 years I have lived in Sunnyvale, I have never seen a homeowner use a gasoline-powered leaf blower," he grumbles.

The city is being cautious, in part, because State Sen. Richard Polanco is expected to resurrect a bill pre-empting local bans next year. That bill passed the Assembly earlier this year, but died in a Senate committee.
Will Harper

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