Cambridge City

Committee Report
CRT 2017 #17
Apr 3, 2017 5:30 PM

A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Health and Environment Committee for a public hearing held on March 22, 2017 to receive an update from City Staff on recent changes regarding leaf blowers made since a hearing held in June 2016, including enforcement, the purchase and pilot of green landscaping equipment, plans for a pilot program in spring 2017 to use green equipment in two parks, and any other updates on efforts the City is taking in regards to leaf blowers, and any other changes to the existing leaf blower ordinance that the City Council may wish to consider.


Department:City Clerk's OfficeSponsors:
Category:Health & Environment





Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair

Councillor Dennis Carlone
Councillor Craig Kelley

Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern

Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.



The Health and Environment Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at 3:05 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.


The purpose of the hearing was to receive an update from City Staff on recent changes regarding leaf blowers made since a hearing held in June 2016, including enforcement, the purchase and pilot of green landscaping equipment, plans for a pilot program in spring 2017 to use green equipment in two parks, and any other updates on efforts the City is taking in regards to leaf blowers, and any other changes to the existing leaf blower ordinance that the City Council may wish to consider.

Present at the hearing were Councillor Devereux, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Mazen, Councillor Toomey, Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager, Owen ORiordan, Commissioner of Public Works, John Nardone, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, David Webster, Superintendent of Parks and Urban Forestry, Public Works Department, Nicole Murati Ferrer, Chair, License Commission, Andrea Boyer, Chief Licensing Investigator, License Commission, Sam Corda, Managing Director, Water Department, Arthur Goldberg, Deputy City Solicitor, Sam Lipson, Director of Environmental Health, Cambridge Health Department, Nora Bent, Aide to Councillor Devereux and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez. 


Also present were Jamie Banks, Quiet Communities, Lincoln, Brian Logee, Katie Camero, 277 Babcock Street, Megan Brook, 103 Inman Street, Carol O'Hare 172 Magazine Street, Virginia Coleman, 2 Berkeley Place, Elizabeth Van Ranst, 120 Foster Street, Jo Solet, 15 Berkeley Street, Chris Young, 56 Concord Avenue, Ed Abrams, 80 Wendell Street and John Hawkinson.


Councillor Devereux convened the hearing and explained the purpose.  She announced that the hearing was being privately audio recorded. There has been a leaf blower ordinance with seasonal restrictions since 2007. Last June, additional goals were set for the License Commission and the Department of Public Works to strengthen enforcement and training and to pilot the use of battery powered equipment for municipal landscaping.  An agenda was distributed for the meeting as follows:


Updates from City Staff

City Managers Office, Department of Public Works, License Commission, Public Health Department

Water Department, Law Department.

·         Updates since June 2016 hearing

·         Progress on enforcement

·         Purchase and pilot of green landscape equipment

·         Spring 2017 Pilot Program

·         Additional Updates



Public Comment






Commissioner O'Riordan presented a PowerPoint presentation on changes to municipal leaf blower practices. (ATTACHMENT A).


Deputy Commissioner Nardone stated that the discussion at the June 2016 committee hearing focused on ways to improve compliance with the leaf blower ordinance and effectively train DPW employees and municipal contractors on the best practices.  He stated that pilot programs began in the fall of 2016 and more will begin in the spring 2017. Best practices for mitigating negative impacts on the environment, residents and workers were discussed.  He stated that DPW employees are provided adequate ear protection, but the best practices are not always followed by private contractors.  City employees were told to be aware of their surroundings and be considerate of passersby when they are operating leaf blowers.  Because the City is committed to reducing its fossil fuel use, electric leaf blowers were purchased by the City for use by many departments.  The battery operated leaf blowers were comparable in efficiency to gas powered leaf blowers, but the battery life averaged less (30-40 minutes per charge).  Extra batteries and chargers were purchased.  Staff will research new leaf blower models to see if they have a longer battery life.  He spoke about expanding the use of these leaf blowers to private contractors.  He spoke about modification to the City operations, including additional seasonal restrictions. He stated that this spring, leaf blowing will began on March 15 and will end June 15, and the fall season will go from September 15 to December 31.  There will be use restrictions around flower beds and ground cover areas.  He spoke about the upcoming pilot to use all electric equipment at two city parks, likely Green Rose and Glacken.  He stated that the concern is the limited battery life and the need for frequent re-charging.  The mowers have a significant size battery.  He explained that the golf course has been using green equipment since 2012.


Ms. Murati Ferrer spoke about the enforcement.  She noted that a Commonwealth Connect category to report leaf blower violations was added to the web and mobile app.  Commercial users who violate the ordinance for the first time are given a warning by the License Commission. If there is no response from the owners of the companies, they are asked to come before the License Commission for a hearing, and they are issued a $300 fine if found to have violated the ordinance.  The new leaf blower regulations (ATTACHMENT B) are more stringent than the ordinance.  She explained that Rules 22 - 24 contain the requirements for ear, respiratory and eye protection.  She stated that an advisory on the ordinance and new regulations will be published in the newspaper.  Ms. Murati Ferrer informed the committee that thirty-four companies have been permitted by the License Commission so far this year.  Renewal applications have been sent to companies that were permitted last year.  She stated that a part-time investigator position has been posted, which will help with enforcement.


Mr. Nardone stated that DPW will issue a report on the effectiveness of battery operated leaf blowers.


At the time Councillor Devereux asked if the City Council had any questions on the presentation.


Councillor Kelley asked if there are restrictions on the use of leaf blowers on vegetation.

Mr. Nardone stated that there is no restriction; they can be used on hard surfaces.  It can be an issue at playgrounds with sand.  He stated that leaf blowers are the best piece of equipment to use on sand, because it can be hard to clean up all of the sand with just brooms.  He stated that leaf blowers should not be used where there is salt, and that best practices for leaf blowers are not always used.  He commented that it is not an appropriate use of a leaf blower to chase a single leaf on a lawn.  He spoke about educating employees about the proper use and best practices.  Ms. Murati Ferrer stated that best practices were stressed at the training given for employees and contractors last fall.  Councillor Kelley stated that the contractors are a relatively small portion of the people using leaf blowers.  Ms. Murati Ferrer stated that there has also been internal training.  Councillor Kelley said that a complete ban on leaf blowers may be the only way to solve the problems they pose.


Vice Mayor McGovern stated that he is more worried about the private landscaping companies properly using leaf blowers than City contractors; these are where the most complaints stem from.  He asked if the city will require private landscaping companies to use battery equipment.  Commissioner O'Riordan stated that battery equipment is advantageous in certain situations.  Ms. Murati Ferrer stated that most complaints are about commercial leaf blowers. She stated that when the first complaint was received last year, education, enforcement and fines were issued by the License Commission.  Now the companies are seeking to comply with the regulations and ordinance.  The proactive actions, the regulations and the notice shows that the City is on a better trajectory.  Vice Mayor McGovern supported revoking the permit if companies are not following the rules and regulations


Councillor Carlone spoke about the harm caused by blowing sand around playgrounds.  He spoke about the noise issue.  On the battery life, he feels workers can maximize battery life by properly using the equipment; and he asked if this was this part of training.  Mr. Nardone spoke about using the equipment more judiciously. Because the battery life is shorter, workers are more likely to only use leaf blowers when necessary. This will be part of the training going forward. 

Councillor Devereux asked if a vacuum could be useful for sand.  Mr. Nardone noted that the Cambridge Common tot lot has a significant amount of sand.  The contractors were instructed that tot lots should be maintained without the use of leaf blowers.  He responded that vacuums could be worse to use.  Councillor Devereux spoke about the training done in the fall and asked if employees hired since then will be given the training.  Mr. Nardone responded in the affirmative.  Councillor Devereux asked if the supervisors or employees are being trained. Mr. Nardone stated that it is the supervisor who was trained, and they are expected to report back to their employees.  Councillor Devereux asked if training could be video-taped so that employees can also be trained.  She asked if two-stroke gas engines being used.  Mr. Nardone responded in the affirmative and they need to be below 65 decibels.  The two-stroke engine is not the most efficient.  Ms. Boyer explained that two-stroke engines must comply with the noise and emissions standards.


Public comment began at 3:48 PM on a motion by Councillor Devereux.


Jamie Banks, Executive Director, Quiet Communities, spoke about five communities that have transitioned to using only electric equipment and manual tools. She commended Cambridge for becoming a leader in the transition away from the use of gas-powered tools.  She suggested that Cambridge look at the experience of other communities who use electric equipment.  The American Green Zone Alliance has a training program on the efficient use of battery-operated equipment.  She spoke about the brands and the battery capacity.  An update on the recent developments in science, medical, and landscaping industries is attached (ATTACHMENT C).


Megan Brook, 103 Inman Street, agreed that there is a problem with leaf blowers.  She said that the new rules are an improvement.  She stated that adding personnel and strategies on enforcement are positive, but the focus is on City staff, even though private contractors are often the subject of complaints.  This is a complaint-driven system.  She asked about contractors who are sending out-of-town employees into Cambridge to work, who are less familiar with the Citys rules.  She supported an outright ban on leaf blowers.  She spoke about the noise caused by battery powered equipment, which is harmful.  The noise and dust cannot be avoided.  She stated that subsequent fines should be increased after the first $300 fine.  She suggested revoking a license when there are repeated violations. 


Carol O'Hare, 172 Magazine Street, applauded the work of Ms. Boyer.  The City and contractors will do the best they can to work and train.  She feels that the independent landscape companies are the issue.  She suggested that it be required that landscape companies attend a training in order to obtain a license.  She suggested we publicize the regulations and information about the Commonwealth Connect category.  She said that many contractors are unaware of the regulations.  She added that leaf blowers are not necessary to clean sidewalks or driveways. 


Virginia Coleman, 2 Berkeley Place, stated that she appreciated the increased enforcement efforts.  She disagreed that the City's needs must dictate what the City allows for all.  The ordinance in its present form cannot be enforced.  She stated that it is impossible to know if contractors are violating the 10,000 foot rule and noise decibel limits.  The battery equipment noise is not as bad as gas powered equipment, but it is still intolerable. She stated that people are using leaf blowers on the sidewalks.  She said that she is in favor of a complete ban. She added that leaf blowers are totally unnecessary.


Elizabeth Van Ranst, 120 Foster Street, stated that she appreciated the progress.  She is concerned about residential leaf blowing and noise.  She collected signatures for no smoking in restaurants when smoking was still allowed in restaurants.  It has become clear that most people are happy not to have smoking in restaurants.  She stated that the leaf blower situation is similar and needs to change.  She suggested shortening the time to March 15 - May 31st and September 15 - December 1, and using quieter machines.  She spoke about the misuse of leaf blowers. She suggested encouraging people to use rakes and brooms and to provide training in many languages.  She stated that she does not know how to tell if a leaf blower is above 65 decibels.  She suggested also fining the homeowner when the companies are violating the ordinance. 


Jo Solet, 15 Berkeley Street, stated that she appreciated the update from the hearing last year.  She wanted a list of offenders and the violations.  She spoke about the frequency of the violations. It should not be up to the residents to get this issue under control.  She read a prepared statement (ATTACHMENT D).  She stated that leaf blower ordinance is ineffective and she listed the health effects of leaf blowers.  She presented a CDC report on hearing loss caused by two hours of leaf blower use.  She spoke about the OCA on a hierarchy of control (ATTACHMENT E).  She spoke about the harm of the pollutants and airborne particulates.  She stated that the use of leaf blowers should not be privileged over the lives of residents or owners of private property.  She spoke about the invitation to the Earth Hour to fight climate change.  She stated that banning residential leaf blowers will fight climate change.


Chris Young, 56 Concord Avenue, stated that noise is a killer with great cruelty.  He complained that he is being kept up all night with leaf blowers and aircraft noise.  He will never catch up on sleep and his blood pressure is high.  The cumulative effect of noise is a killer.  He stated that 30% of the fuel from leaf blowers goes into the air.


Ed Abrams, 80 Wendell Street, stated that this shows that the regulations are not working if these hearings are held yearly.  There is overwhelming public support for a ban, so why doesn't the City enforce a ban.  He spoke about 100 decibels equipment he has witnessed being used by the Water Department at Fresh Pond.  He stated Radcliffe and Sancta Maria often violate the ordinance.  Harvard and other institutions use whatever equipment they want.  He wanted stronger regulations by the City on the golf course.  He supported a total ban.


John Hawkinson commented that in #9 and #10 of the Leaf Blower Regulations that the License Commission shares with contractors it says square feet, but should instead be linear feet.


Public comment closed at 4:24 PM on motion of Councillor Devereux.


Councillor Devereux stated that it is clear that the people who spoke at this hearing want a total ban, but she has not done a poll of the general public and there are people who feel it necessary to use leaf blowers.  There have been good suggestions made regarding training for employees and private contractors.  She asked if this can this be extended. She wanted stronger regulations on hard surfaces.  Fining the homeowner is one way to give enforcement more teeth.  She wanted to the City Council to discuss a leaf blower ban for on non-municipal property.  She applauded the City's use of electric equipment.


Councillor Carlone agreed about banning the equipment.  He commented on the City using electric equipment and that the City was going to look at efforts to reduce noise and emissions.  He sees no reason why leaf blowers are used on residential sites; this is a health and nuisance issue.  He believes that leaf blowers should not be allowed.  He believes that all employees, not just the supervisor should attend the trainings. He stated that Flagstaff Park personnel were using leaf blowers to clean the paths and the dust was going into the cars and the employee yelled to the motorists "close your window."


Councillor Mazen asked how much faster a leaf blower on a residential lot is than raking. Commissioner O'Riordan stated that supervisors believe that the use of leaf blowers for the parks is efficient.  Mr. Webster stated that backpack are more efficient in a large area.  Many people feel raking a large area is very taxing.  Councilor Mazen wanted to find a way to create a ban for residential areas. 


Councillor Kelley noted that something was used for landscaping before leaf blowers existed.  He does not see the need for leaf blowers. He stated that tennis and basketball courts will not be as clean without leaf blowers, and that might be acceptable.  Commissioner O'Riordan stated that injury has been caused by slipping on leaves and sand.  There are benefits to looking into more battery or electric equipment and training.  He stated that the City can reach out to Harvard and MIT to work with the City on this.  He spoke about the need for regulations for residential areas.  Councillor Kelley stated that he did not think about the safety issues.  He spoke about leaf blowers that affects the flower beds.  He suggested rethinking what a ban might be. 


Vice Mayor McGovern stated that there is a difference between public and private property and responsibility.  All have to sacrifice for the greater good to ensure that the parks are safe and clean.  An individual house is the responsibility of the homeowner.  He spoke about a partial ban.  More can be done to limit leaf blower use on private property.


Councillor Carlone spoke about using decomposing leaves as food for plants and grass.  Mr. Webster spoke about mulch - it would have to be removed it cannot all be mulched.  He stated that impacted land on the fields and use of the fields and mulching would be difficult on athletic fields.


Councillor Devereux proposed the Council consider instituting a ban on leaf blowers on private property. This would not eliminate the need for enforcement, and compliance will always be a challenge.  She wanted to hold another hearing to let the public comment on this proposal.  She spoke on the issues of sand in the Cambridge Common tot lot.  She suggested that brooms be placed in the tot lot with a sign to ask for help to clean up the sand.  Councillor Kelley wanted to discuss leaf blower use on large parcels.  He wanted leaf blowers to be used on surfaces where lack of use would cause safety issue and not be used on any vegetated surfaces.


Vice Mayor McGovern suggested scheduling another Health and Environment Committee hearing and ask the City to come back with possibilities.  He wanted to hear from the City about an entire ban and what it means for public and private property and have a discussion on the pros and cons to the City.


Councillor Devereux stated that it could be detrimental to the City to maintain its properties with no leaf blowers, but that they could use electric equipment. She stated that she did not believe that residents need to use leaf blowers on their smaller plots of land.


Deputy City Manager Peterson asked that this matter be kept in committee.  She spoke about the costs, impacts, education and training on this matter and said that this needed additional discussion.


Councillor Carlone stated that on large parcel, both municipal and institutional, there should be buffer zones. Even on large parcels — we need to be more considerate of neighbors.


Councillor Devereux noted that Deputy City Manager Peterson would work on the scenarios.   She moved that the matter remain in committee and the motion carried on a voice vote


Councillor Devereux thanked all those present for their attendance.


The following e-mails were received and made part of the report: 


Communication from Florrie and Jim Wescoat, 33 Market Street, urging the City to develop an environmental approach to landscape maintenance as part of its goal of sustainability and to ultimately phase out all leaf blowers (ATTACHMENT F).


Communication from Lawrence Hartmann, M.D., 147 Brattle Street, urging a ban on all leaf blowers (ATTACHMENT G).


Communication from Nan M. Laird, 156 Hancock Street, supporting a stronger ban on leaf blowers (ATTACHMENT H).


Communication from Marilyn Wellons, 651 Green Street, urging that leaf blowers be banned (ATTACHMENT I).


The hearing adjourned at 4:58 PM on motion of Councillor Devereux.


For the Committee,


Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair

Health and Environment Committee

Meeting History

Apr 3, 2017 5:30 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft