SAN MATEO -- Almost everyone can agree that the roar from leaf blowers is maddening. Even so, cutting down on the noise is turning out to be a tricky issue.
San Mateo is the latest city in the Bay Area to consider regulations on leaf blowers, which make cleaning up leaves more efficient but create a new set of health and environmental problems. On Monday the council will consider three options for muffling the machines -- the cheapest of which would cost the city $158,000 a year.
Several cities around the Bay have already passed laws cracking down on the wind cannons. Los Altos and Palo Alto prohibit gas-powered blowers but allow quieter electric-powered tools. Burlingame restricted their commercial use to one day per neighborhood and capped the noise at 65 decibels. Orinda has yet to act, but a 2010 campaign to ban the blowers generated national buzz.
The San Mateo council is considering three options that came out of community workshops. In descending order of expense, they are: an outright ban on blowers; prohibition of blowers louder than 65 decibels; and heightened enforcement of the existing ordinance, which bars the use of the tools on Sundays and holidays and requires operating them at low speed.
City Councilman Jack Matthews said he doesn't care much for leaf blowers. But he's concerned that banning them could put gardeners out of work by increasing their employers' costs. The city's parks maintenance crews did a study on the efficiency of the blowers, finding that using rakes instead of the machines doubled the amount of time needed to clean certain areas. The study estimated a ban would require the city to hire part-time workers to the tune of $45,000.
Though Matthews is hesitant to endorse a ban, he said it would be simpler to enforce than a cap on decibels.
"From my point of view it's much easier to say you can't have them," Matthews said, "but then there's an impact on our Parks and Recreation Department, which has to maintain our parks and open space, as well as gardeners and individual homeowners."
Getting rid of leaf blowers altogether would mean higher prices for consumers, according to Logan Campbell, owner of San Mateo-based Sustainable Landscape and Gardening.
"An outright ban would be very detrimental to not only the business owners but it would also increase prices at least 30 percent," Campbell said, "because that's a third of the work right there."
Each option before the council would require the city to add a minimum of two part-time and one full-time employees. The long-term costs of the plans range from $158,000 to $203,000 a year.
Besides noise concerns, leaf-blower opponents have pointed to environmental and worker-safety issues. The tools blow toxic particulate matter into the air, they say, and the dust and noise are particularly harmful to the gardeners who use them.
A Burlingame citizens commission interviewed gardeners in researching the city's ordinance, which went into effect this summer. When asked about the noise, one of them replied, "At night all I hear in my head is the blower." Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.
What: Leaf-blower study session
Who: San Mateo City Council
Where: City Hall, 330 W. 20th Ave., San Mateo
When: 5:15 p.m. Monday