December 1, 2015
For immediate release
Chapel Hill: Palo Alto, California, the home of Stanford University in Silicon Valley, has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet for failing to enforce restrictions on leaf blowers. In leafy Palo Alto, noisy leaf blowers blast away every day, kicking up dirt and dust and debris and making life acoustically unpleasant.
On July 1, 2005, the following restrictions on leaf blowers went into effect in Palo Alto:
- Combustion-powered leaf blowers are not permitted in residential zones
- Leaf blowers lacking a manufacturer’s label designating the decibel level at 65 dBA or lower from 50 feet are not permitted
- When a leaf blower is in use, all mufflers and full extension tubes must be attached.
- The use of electric leaf blowers in residential zones is only allowed between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and only between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on Saturdays
- Leaf blowers are permitted in non-residential zones only from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and only between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on Saturdays.
- Commercial leaf blower operators must display a certificate of training, according to standards developed by the chief of police
- Leaf blowers are permitted from 4:00 am until 8:00 am at the municipal golf course and on sidewalks, parking lots, and public streets in business districts
- The fine for a first offense of the ordinance is $100.
In spite of these restrictions, operators of leaf blowers blast away, with no fear of enforcement action. In recent years, the Palo Alto police department has eliminated its dedicated line for leaf blower complaints and eliminated a community-service position. Palo Alto Online reports that “after issuing 322 reports about leaf blowing violations in 2008 and 359 in 2009,” the police department “issued only 63 in 2010.” In 2011, “the department issued zero formal warnings or citations. In 2012, it issued one. In 2013, zero. In 2014, one. As of June 30 of this year, the number was zero.”
Palo Alto Online reports that Palo Alto police officers “make no secret of the fact that they often have more important things to do than admonish gardeners for making too much noise.” The newspaper notes that “the numbers suggest that low prioritization” by the police department “has rendered the ordinance useless.”
Bill Rosenberg, a Palo Alto resident, is very bothered by the constant, irritating noise from leaf blowers. He figures that “if he were deputized by the police to hand out citations to people using leaf blowers,” he could “issue a half-dozen every day as he bikes around town.” Rosenberg even distributes a leaf blower FAQ to offending homeowners and gardeners. A few recipients, he said, have been “mildly abusive,” demanding to know, “Are you the police? If you’re not the police, then get out of the way.”
To actually enforce the restrictions on leaf blowers, Rosenberg suggests “a community-service police officer riding on a bicycle, stopping to chat with gardeners and homeowners and generally being a presence in the neighborhoods.” He also suggests escalating fines–“as much as double each prior offense.”
Ted Rueter, the director of Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet, states that “Palo Alto passed restrictions on leaf blowers for good reason. Leaf blowers create very high levels of irritating noise. They make life very difficult for those suffering from asthma or allergies. Many American communities are leaf blower hell because of the constant noise. Leaf blowers also contribute to air pollution. They are pointless and unnecessary and should be banned. The police department in Palo Alto should do its job, enforce the law, and protect the health of its citizens.”
Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet is a national citizens’ organization opposed to noise pollution. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include the Oakland police department, northeast Los Angeles, and UCLA.