Ballot Language

Here is a recent Letter to the Editor from Sonoma CALM members that explains the status of the language for the upcoming Ballot Measure. Sonoma CALM will be helping to draft the Argument to uphold the City Council’s recent ordinance banning gas blowers while allowing electric- and battery-powered blowers. Everyone already knows the arguments for continued use of gas-powered blowers – time, jobs, personal rights, etc. Time and time again, groups across the country working to ban gas-powered blowers have proven that these arguments don’t stand up when weighed against risks to public health, contributing to green house gas and other toxic emissions, depletion and desiccation of top soil and leaf litter, noise pollution, and neighborly discourtesy.

 


Letter: Leaf-blower ballot language – approved without public input?

Posted on July 5, 2016 by Sonoma Valley Sun

On March 21, the Sonoma City Council approved an ordinance to prohibit gas-powered leaf blowers in City limits, while allowing electric and battery powered blowers. City staff made the questionable decision not to notify the public about the ordinance, which was to take effect July 1, because a referendum to overturn it was being organized by Jerry Marino. This decision caused widespread confusion, and most people did not know an ordinance had passed, including some of the referendum signature collectors, and many who signed it.

Once the signatures were vetted, the ordinance was suspended and the Council had three options: to rescind it, put it on the November ballot, or call a special election. At the May 16 Council meeting, Council asked staff to prepare all three options for discussion, to be voted on at the June 27 meeting. At that meeting, the Council voted unanimously to send it to the November election.

Unbeknownst to at least some Council members, but recently confirmed by city staff, in voting to send the ordinance to the ballot, the Council tacitly approved the ballot language. This was not made clear in the agenda packet or in staff’s discussion of the item – but should have been.

Members of the public had expressed concerns about the ballot language at past meetings, as had Council members. They stressed the importance of having the opportunity to review the language. The ordinance title was deemed confusing, as it did not specify that only gas blowers were prohibited. Because the title does not have to be repeated verbatim on the ballot, at issue was how to describe the ordinance to make it clear what people were voting on.

At the May 15 meeting, the City Attorney said staff would “…bring back to the Council…some optional language to insert into the ballot…” So it is understandable that many expected the language to come back at a future meeting.

Members of the public made recommendations about the language during public comments on June 27, and although staff knew it was already bundled with the resolutions, they said nothing about that. Where is the transparency in this process? Nobody seemed to know what was going on except for city staff, and they must have been aware that others didn’t, given public and Council comments.

City staff works for the City Council, not the other way around, and the Council works for the public. That ballot language slid in under the radar, setting a dangerous precedent for future ballot initiatives, which are, by nature, complex and difficult to navigate. Ultimately the approach of City staff created an opaque process around this issue that did not serve the public.

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Do you know what you’re signing?

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Are you as tired of hearing about leaf blowers as you are of hearing them? You’re not alone.  Leaf blowers have been a problem for many residents in Sonoma Valley for years, and the problem has only gotten worse, not better, in that time.

After six years of negotiations, the Sonoma City Council passed an ordinance on March 21, 2016 that permits the use of electric or battery-powered leaf blowers in city limits, but prohibits all gas-powered leaf blowers. Now, a few individuals are circulating a petition to overturn this hard won compromise, asking residents to say “no” before giving the new ordinance a chance.

The following will help you understand what you are being asked to sign. Our goal is to help you make an informed decision if and when you are asked to sign this petition.
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The Sonoma City Council recently passed an ordinance to ALLOW the use of electric and battery-powered leaf blowers within city limits while PROHIBITING the use of gas-powered ones, beginning July 1, 2016.

The petition is asking the council to either:
(a) overturn their decision, or
(b) place the issue to overturn it on the ballot in November.

They say “Let the people decide.” Sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast! Consider the following:

• Ballot measures can only be amended or tweaked with another costly and time-consuming ballot measure.

• Historically, ballot measures are used for issues of taxation, revenues, and infrastructure, not policy.  A few recent articles in the Sonoma Sun help explain why:

Going to the Ballot

Another Failure to Lead

• Even if the ordinance were to be repealed, gas-powered leaf blowers already violate the City’s own noise ordinance of 70dB. What they are really asking for is continued permission to violate a municipal code that is widely respected by law-abiding residents, visitors, and businesses in Sonoma.

The long term risks of using gas leaf blowers are well documented, and the Council and public have had over five years to review the evidence.

There is more scientific evidence than ever documenting the health and environmental threats posed by gas leaf blowers, from the American Lung Association, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, Mt. Sinai Hospital Pediatric Unit, American Academy of Pediatrics, Environmental Health PerspectivesNew England Journal of Medicine, and many more.

The compromise ban the Council passed had the support of landscapers, business people, homeowners, and ban opponents and proponents alike.

This compromise ordinance was the end result of an open, transparent process. More than 800 people signed a petition supporting a ban on blowers, dozens of people spoke at meetings asking for relief from leaf blowers, and the Council received an unprecedented amount of mail, heavily supporting some kind of regulation.

Leaf blowers’ 200 mph winds kick up dangerous fine particulate matter containing pesticides, fertilizer, animal feces, toxins, mold, pollen, fungal spores, carcinogens such as Roundup, etc. Our nose can filter out everyday dust and pollen, but not fine particulate matter, which can get deeply embedded in our lungs. The finest particles can even enter the bloodstream and harm organs.

The two-stroke engines used in gas leaf blowers are banned in many countries due to their dangerous emissions. Landscaping equipment is a significant source of air pollution, yet remains largely unregulated.

Many industries, including automobile manufacturers, energy, and construction are turning to green technologies to make our communities and cities quieter, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly – it’s time for residential and commercial landscaping companies to get on board.

Time to Pay it Forward

As members of our community, we are asking you to consider the future health and well-being of Sonoma’s residents, especially children, the elderly, and those with fragile health. (School District decision http://sonomasun.com/2015/11/11/gas-leafblowers-ousted-by-school-district/)

Here is Sonoma’s new Leaf Blower Ordinance.

Help our spread the word! Download and distribute our LEAF BLOWER FLYER.

Or, hear what a real life leaf blower has to say in a recent article in The New Yorker: “I Am a Leaf Blower.”