Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Can 400 U.S. cities be wrong?

Ever since last summer, one of the biggest banes of my existence has been the shopping center next door, and specifically, the use of leaf blowers at the shopping center next door.

At 7am. For an hour.

Last summer and fall, this was happening 2 days a week, on Monday and Friday mornings. Lately, though, it's only been happening on Mondays. But only happening on Mondays is like saying someone comes into your room with a chainsaw and holds it over your bed for an hour, but only on Monday mornings.

It doesn't usually seem to bother my roommate Dylan too much, but more often than not, after angrily trying to get back to sleep for 30 minutes (ear plugs do nothing), I stumble into the kitchen only to find the other roommate, Garrett, already in there, fuming as much as I am.

So yesterday morning, after an already fitful night of sleep, and having absolutely no reason to get up early, I'd finally had enough. It took only 2 Google searches to figure out who owned the property next door. Turns out, Seton Hospital (another issue - I will never, ever, ever live within 40 miles of a hospital ever again, especially the busiest one in the city) owns the property. So I found 3 separate email addresses, addressed a new email to them all, and fired it off.

I was nice enough, but basically stated that it was ridiculously absurd to use leaf blowers in the first place, but to use them at 7am was not only thoughtless, it was downright cruel. And that frankly, it was creating a lot of ill will towards the shopping center in my neighborhood. Which is true.

I received a pretty immediate response from one of the recipients, informing me that Seton only owned the property, but didn't manage it. However, she gave me the name, phone number and email address of who I should talk to about it. Then was even kind enough to forward my email on to said person for me.

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from this person to whom it had been forwarded (Belva is her name) saying that she appreciated my concern and would speak to the landscaping company about trying to at least move the leaf-blowing hour up until 8. (By city law, you can use leaf blowers in Austin between the hours of 7am and 9pm.) She did, however, provide some pretty dubious evidence as to why leaf blowers were necessary on the property:

I can understand your confusion about why leaf blowers are even needed, but please understand that it is necessary to use them particularly at a center such as 26 Doors that has many trees that continually drop their leaves. Our landscapers blow the leaves into the parking lot and bag most of them. We then have sweepers that come through at night and vacuum up the rest. So, they are actually accomplishing something. Otherwise, we would not be able to walk through the center as the leaves would be gathered into tall piles.

I was pretty happy about all of this so I forwarded the email on to my roommate Garrett, because I thought he might be interested. He was overjoyed at my progress, all stemming from one polite email, so he thought he might push it a bit further if he could.

He emailed Belva himself, questioning her justification for the use of leaf blowers at all, which I also really wanted to do, but didn't think I should push my luck. I quote now from Garrett's email:

The neighborhood is dense and diverse. It is filled with students and people who have different work schedules that are
not the traditional 8 to 5. I understand the need for the property to be clean. However, may I suggest the use
of industrial sized push brooms instead of leaf blowers? To me, this would be a true compromise as the
neighbors get their silence in the morning and your property gets the job done that is needed at the time
that is most convenient to you and your workers. I would even buy the brooms necessary for this job because I feel
so strongly this compromise will make everyone the happiest as everyone gets what they want and there is no chance
any more animocity can be spurred on with the work being done in silence at any hour.

Apparently, (and I haven't read the actual email, but Garrett told me about it) this enraged Belva, who shot back that getting rid of leaf blowers would "exponentially" raise the cost of landscaping services and that Garrett had no business trying to dictate how she ran her property.

So, once again, Garrett responded back, genuinely questioning why it would "exponentially" raise landscaping costs, considering you wouldn't have to buy the blowers, you wouldn't have to buy gas for the blowers, you wouldn't have to pay for maintenance on the blowers, and the workers would probably prefer to do without the noise and weight of carrying them around.

No word yet if she responded to this.

I started doing some research though, and discovered that over 400 U.S. cities and towns have either banned, or placed serious restrictions on, leaf blowers, largely due to the noise disturbance they create, but also because they guzzle gas and pollute worse than cars. Arizona and New Jersey have even debated putting statewide bans on them.

Once school is over I'm going to try to make it my mission to get those fuckers banned in Austin. The stupid-ass condos across the street from me use them too. Twice a week in the summer and fall (twice a week!!) they have a landscaping service come in and mow, edge, and leaf-blow for at least an hour and a half in the afternoons. It's so loud in my house when they do that, I can't concentrate on anything. I can't even watch TV. Seriously. That's how loud it all is. I can't read or do homework. Multiple times I've been working on papers or something and had to leave my own house and go somewhere else because their leaf blowers were too loud across the street.

Anybody have any advice as to the best way to approach this kind of stuff with City Council? I'm not fucking around.


bryan h. said...

Are you asking if there's a "best way" beyond just contacting them? I would say err on the side of being polite and write them a letter.


bryan h. said...

...perhaps also have everyone in your neighborhood who's so upset send a letter, too (either of a copy you provide for them or one of their own). I think the general consensus is that multiple copies of the same letter are more effective than one letter with lots of signatures. But you might seek a second opinion if optimizing your time and effect is very important.

bryan h. said...

Also, if you send any letters off in the next few weeks remember that a city council election is coming up and that some people who you contacted may be replaced.

Early voting for the city council election, by the way, is April 28 (election day is May 10).

Tom Drew said...

You didn't tell me her name was Belva. Although I might not have believed you if you had.

Mandy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mandy said...

Last week, Apartment Therapy's green living website, re-nest.com, had an article about leaf blowers being the scourge of the earth. You might find it interesting.

P.S. if the article opens in this window and is too small to read, here is the link you can copy and paste:


jody said...

You're the best Ryan. I love this blog.

I would email her another polite email that says, "After our correspondence, I thought I'd conduct some research on leaf blowers. This is what I found . . ."

Then tell her all the bad. Austin is big on green right now, emphasize that. But include the articles (or links) that you found to support your argument. Forward your original email and her response to a City Council member and remind them of Austin's goal to be a green city.