Commission to consider resident vote on gas leaf blower ban

Sen. Jason Brodeur signaled he would not try to preempt the ban if commissions let voters decide its fate next year

Feb. 14, 2024

By Beth Kassab

The noise over Winter Park’s ban on gas leaf blowers intensified Wednesday at a hastily called work session for the City Commission to decide how to respond to a threat by Sen. Jason Brodeur (pictured above) to take away control over the issue from local officials.

City Manager Randy Knight told commissioners he spoke with Brodeur and the senator would be willing to drop his plan to pass a state law to prohibit all cities and counties from banning the gas devices — but only if Winter Park met Brodeur’s demands:

  • Commissioners must delay enforcing the ordinance to June 1, 2025 rather than Jan. 1, 2025 as they decided last month.
  • Commissioners must also place a question on the March 2025 ballot so voters can decide whether the ban should be repealed.

Mayor Phil Anderson, Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio and Commissioner Kris Cruzada said they would be open to following those orders, but the commission did not reach a decision and opted to consider the matter again at the next meeting on Feb. 28.

DeCiccio, who is running for mayor in the March 19 election, was the swing vote as the necessary third commissioner to potentially pass the voter referendum. Commissioners Todd Weaver and Marty Sullivan said they were against it.

Knight suggested that agreeing to the voter referendum could be the only way to keep Brodeur from attempting to pass a preemption law this legislative session, which is more than half way over. A number of Florida cities such as Naples and Biscayne Bay have already enacted bans, but even those could be thrown out by Brodeur’s legislation.

Brodeur briefly introduced an amendment on Feb. 6 in Tallahassee to preempt cities from enacting such a ban and then immediately withdrew it.

Just two days later on Feb. 8, Knight sent a text message to Brodeur asking to have a discussion, according to text messages provided to the Voice through a public records request.

On Monday morning, Knight reached out to Brodeur again and let him know that the city scheduled a work session about leaf blowers for Wednesday and referred to the idea of a referendum as if it was already a done deal.

“I have briefed all commissioners on our discussion and I feel good about it,” Knight wrote. “We don’t take public comment at work sessions but of course will when the referendum ordinance comes forward.”

“Outstanding,” Brodeur responded. “Much appreciated.”

Brodeur got involved in the issue just weeks ago after complaints from constituents escalated after the city passed a rebate for homeowners who purchased electric leaf blowers.

The ban has been around since 2022, but commissioners opted to delay its start until July of this year.

Landscape companies say the electric devices are too expensive, don’t have enough power and will bring an increased burden on their small businesses and individual workers.

Anderson said Wednesday that he recalls the survey the city conducted more than two years ago before passing the ban came back split about 50-50 in terms of support and opposition.

“I don’t know that we have 100% of the answer what our constituents want and I don’t know that Sen. Brodeur has 100% of the answer so it’s kind of an interesting idea to let the citizens weigh in on it,” he said. “It’s better than Survey Monkey.”

Commissioner Marty Sullivan expressed more skepticism.

“Even if the majority said no,” to a leaf blower ban, Sullivan said, “I think it’s incumbent on us to look to the future and do what’s right for the future. I believe this leaf blower ban is a great step forward for our city. I am hesitant about this compromise put forth by our senator.”

Commissioner Todd Weaver pointed out that the original vote for the ban was unanimous and that commissioners are elected to represent the interests of the city, rather than manage “threats” and edicts handed down from Tallahassee. He said he would rather see the question make it to the ballot because citizens gather enough signatures to place it there — an estimated 1,400 or so — rather than by a vote of the commission.

DeCiccio also said she support a citizen-led effort to put the question on the ballot next year and asked Knight to approach Brodeur to see if he would also be amenable to that option.

Knight will bring another report back to the commission on Feb. 28 when they will also take a vote on whether to allow voters the chance to repeal the ordinance next year.

The legislative session is scheduled to end the following week on March 8, which still leave Brodeur nine days to slip the preemption language into a bill if he doesn’t like the results of the next city meeting.

In recent years, Florida legislators have taken control away from municipal and county elected officials on everything from setting renewable energy standards, gun ranges, tenants’ rights, affordable housing projects and even the books on the shelves at public schools.

Anderson, who met with landscape company owners last month to hear their concerns and called a special meeting to potentially change the ordinance, is pushing the city to provide a directory of companies that have already converted to electric equipment so residents can make more informed decisions about who they hire.

“Whether we’re preempted or not, the city believes this is the right thing to do,” he said, noting he wants more resources and education available.

DeCiccio asked how bans are playing out in other cities that have enacted them for the same reasons — to reduce nuisance noise and pollution.

“They’ve all stuck with it,” Knight said. “They haven’t repealed it. They haven’t expressed that it’s been much of a challenge for them.”

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    By: Beth Kassab

    No biography available at this time

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