Saturday, October 17, 2020

Leaf Blowers: Window on Governance

I wanted to do a quick post about something that seems like a small tweak and highly local, but that is much more complicated and far-reaching.  It gives another data point for "all politics is local" and "think globally, act locally."

With great fanfare, Redondo Beach voted to ban motorized leaf blowers on July 10, 2018 on environmental grounds.  The announcement did not explain the environmental grounds or clearly define what they mean by motorized.  

The notices went out to residents, but not the gardeners.  Renters, about half the RB population, don't hire gardeners. I don't know if property managers that hire gardeners were notified. The gardeners seemed to be unaware of the rule.

When I told gardeners about the rule, they ignored me or told me either that they were unaware of the ban, or that their electric leaf blowers were exempt.

The health hazards of gas-powered leaf blowers are well known.  They are deafeningly loud and expose the users to dangerous levels of carcinogens from fuel and combustion by-products.  The California Air Resources Board has a website explaining the pollution caused by Small Off-Road Engines (SORE).

BTW, the smog pollution includes NO2, which is known to be a very potent and persistent greenhouse gas.

1 hour of lawn mower use produces as much smog as driving LA to Vegas.  1 hour of leaf blower use = driving 1100 miles from LA to Denver.

The numbers are staggering. 1 hour of leaf blower use produces as much smog as a RT to visit my mom in SF and continuing on to northern NorCal to visit my SIL. 2 hours = a RT to Boulder to visit friends. 

Newer cars are much cleaner than older cars.  Our hybrid is cleaner than average so the equivalent SORE use time may be much lower.  In 2020, SORE smog emissions will roughly equal total car smog emissions in CA. SORE emissions will dominate as older, more polluting cars are retired. 

Lawn Equipment roughly equal total car smog emissions in CA and will dominate as the old cars are retired. 

The case against gas-powered leaf blowers is easy and well-known.  What about the much quieter electric-powered leaf blowers?  Are they a harmless alternative?

They don't produce the smog, but they are just as effective at kicking up clouds of dust.  Gardeners wear particle masks when they use leaf blowers to protect themselves, but the rest of us choke in it.

What's in that dust?
  • Pollen: terrible for allergy sufferers
  • Mold: terrible for people with allergies and compromised immune systems*
  • Road Dust: toxic, carcinogenic, causes lung & heart disease and dementia, makes Covid-19 deadlier
Let's normalize using a rake with a broom and dust pan.  It doesn't kick up as much dust or throw it up as high.  Reject that ultra-manicured yard look.

* My stepmother died of pneumonia after her last round of chemotherapy.  She was given a strong cocktail of antibiotics and anti-fungals via IV, but they couldn't save her.  An autopsy showed that she died of fungal pneumonia.  Mold spores got into her lungs and took advantage of her weakened state.  I think of her every time I hear or see a leaf blower.

What about governance?

Leaf blowers are another reason I lost faith in my local government.  I thought that you pass a law, and people obey the law.  If they don't, you call the cops or some other watchdog responsible for enforcing the law.

I called the non-emergency police hotline.  They took the report, but did nothing.  I asked my council member.  They said that the police were not happy about working without a contract. Hopefully, they would do more enforcement of laws after contract negotiations were successful.  

[The city was also spinning up another number and email address where we could report leaf blower violations as a workaround for the non responsive police department.  I emailed that office time-stamped photos of leaf blower use on my block, but never got any responses from them either.]

WHUT? Local teachers were working YEARS without a contract, yet they were still doing their jobs. From the Beach Reporter
In the 14 months since Redondo Beach enacted a ban on leaf blowers, the city has received more than 1,700 complaints and issued just three citations. ... On Tuesday, the Redondo Beach City Council received its answer when it learned that out of more than 1,375 leaf blower complaints to city code enforcement just two citations were issued. Police issued one citation out of 339 complaints. Numerous courtesy notices were also issued.
Up to that point, I had very few interactions with the RB police. Now, with all the BLM and Defund the Police talk, I've been thinking about what functions are appropriate for the police and which would be more effectively dealt with by others. 

Have you looked at your city's budget? I mean really looked at both the discretionary budget and the zombie costs of pensions? Do you know about the VERY generous police pensions relative to all other types of government jobs? They literally have a gun pointed at our heads during contract negotiations. 

Anyway, this has changed the way I see the police and city budgets. It's also changed the way I see local political races and endorsements from police (and fire) unions.  The saga with the RB firemans' union going after the elected officials that refused to merge with the county fire department (and their platinum-plated pension program) was eye-opening.

Even after cutting $150 M, LAPD still gets more than half the city's unrestricted funds.  If you count pension contributions, and they have the most generous pensions, police departments get the lions share of most city budgets.  

The cities work for the police departments, not the other way around.

Moreover, these employees often don't live in the cities where they serve.  They take that money and spend it elsewhere.  It's not an exaggeration to call it colonialism.

It started with my allergies and leaf blowers.  But it made this suburban mom question who really works for whom.  My local police union** taught me a lesson, and it wasn't the one they intended.  When the Defund the Police movement arrived, I was ready to listen.  

**The police union and the police chief are not equivalent. They don't have the same priorities.

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