Hawaii governor has until July 6 to act on bill limiting leaf blowers
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
New legislation would place limits on the use of leaf blowers, offering some relief to residents from the noisy machine — but not as much as some had hoped for.
Senate Bill 466 would restrict the use of leaf blowers to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. within a residential zone or 100 feet of a residential zone, except Sundays and holidays, when they could be operated between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Violations would carry fines of up to $500.
The measure also prohibits blowing debris onto neighboring property or public rights-of-way.
"Most people don't realize that on first thinking about leaf blowers that it's actually blowing feces, pollen and everything else into the air, so there is a pollution other than noise," said Linda Wong, who has spearheaded efforts to control leaf blowers.
Gov. Linda Lingle has until July 6 to veto or sign the bill into law or to let it become law without her signature. If she intends to veto the bill, she must notify the Legislature by June 21. If the bill becomes law, it will take effect July 1.
Wong, a member of the neighborhood board for Diamond Head, Kapahulu and St. Louis Heights, said she expects the bill to become law because many in the landscape industry supported the measure.
"They supported it because they say they're getting a black eye from the mom-and-pops that operate on the weekend that have no licenses," Wong said.
Matt Lyum, a member of the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii, said industry members had wanted to give input for the hours of operations but were locked out of the process when the bill went into conference committee, where such details were decided.
"Most of us in the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii support restrictions on blowers and other power equipment," said Lyum, owner of Performance Landscapes. "But we don't support a total ban."
Contrary to what the industry believed, the state does not have noise restrictions on landscape machinery, he said. For instance, a construction company using a chain saw to demolish a building is bound by noise restrictions, but a landscaper using the same saw to cut down a tree is not.
The noise level of older gas-powered blowers is as high as 80 decibels. That compares with lawnmowers, which run about 90 decibels, and vacuum cleaners, which emit about 70 decibels.
Across the country, cities and municipalities have moved to ban or restrict the use of leaf blowers because of environmental and health concerns. Those areas include Tarrytown, Yonkers, Hastings, Rye and Dobbs Ferry in New York.
In California, at least 27 cities have passed laws that ban or restrict leaf blowers. Laguna Beach and Santa Monica have laws banning all leaf blowers; Los Angel- es, Berkeley, Sacramento, Claremont and Beverly Hills have banned only gas-powered models. Sacramento enacted restrictions on hours of use, proximity to residences and decibel levels.
Landscaper Harold Au, owner of Da Hawaiian Yard Service, said he'll follow the guidelines, which he found reasonable.
"We'll just find a way to work around it, use rakes or just follow what they say," Au said.
One landscaper who opposed the bill testified that the restrictions would increase labor costs as workers would have to use the slower method of raking. The cost would then be passed on to the client. That could prompt them to discontinue the service, leading to layoffs, the landscaper said.
Natalie Iwasa of Hawai'i Kai, who testified in favor of the bill, said she has mixed feelings about the whole process. While she's glad the bill passed, she's not happy that people can't be more considerate of their neighbors.
"I think it's sad that it comes to the point where this type of activity is legislated," Iwasa said. "It should be a matter of courtesy."
Gail Schaffer of Diamond Head said that when a leaf blower is operating outside her apartment, she can't hear her telephone, television or radio. Schaffer said more can be done to improve the bill, and Wong has said she will push for stricter provisions.
SB 466 was introduced last year, and some of its tougher restrictions were eliminated in this year's legislative session, including prohibiting the use of leaf blowers within 10 feet of windows, doors and ducts, and limiting the time they may be used — 15 minutes to two hours — depending on the size of the lot.
However, the current bill cuts the hours of allowable use from the 12 hours a day that was proposed last year to 10 hours a day.
"I think everybody has worked really hard to get it this far, and if more improvements can be done to it, that's fine," Schaffer said. "If we can get better hours or even get rid of the bloody things, that would be better."