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?
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.