Commissioners don't budge on gas-powered leaf blower ban
The debate over how to keep leaves off lawns provoked angry outbursts
Feb. 1, 2024
By Beth Kassab
A proposal by Mayor Phil Anderson to delay the start of a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers by six months failed to gain traction Thursday morning as commissioners held a special meeting to discuss the change that is rivaling brick streets, the new library and multi-story buildings for controversy in Winter Park.
Instead, the board voted 3-2 to keep the July 1 start date, but delay imposing any fines until Jan. 1, 2025. Commissioners Kris Cruzada and Todd Weaver voted against the fine delay. Cruzada said his main concern was specifying regulations related to noise from the machines. Weaver argued that the 30-month delay in enforcing the ordinance since it was passed in 2022 was enough time for residents and landscape companies to comply.
The outcome is essentially the status quo because commissioners already acknowledged at a meeting last month that fines and aggressive enforcement weren’t the intent of the ordinance. City Manager Randy Knight said he did not expect code enforcement staff to actively patrol for violations, but rather respond to questions and reports of problems.
The debate surrounding how residents or their hired services should remove fallen leaves from their lawns grew louder in recent weeks since the commission approved a $50 utility bill rebate for residents who purchased electric versions of the devices.
Representatives from landscape companies have said they didn’t know about the new rule and told Anderson and City Manager Randy Knight in a meeting last week at City Hall that the cost of the electric blowers would crush their businesses.
Thursday’s meeting turned loud at times with Anderson twice pausing the meting to call on the audience twice to follow basic decorum. A dozen people spoke against the ordinance during public comment, including owners of landscape companies.
“We’re a small business and operate with historically small margins,” said Eric Kobb, the owner of one company, who estimated it would cost him about $100,000 to transition his crews to electric blowers and another $50,000 or more in additional yearly costs. “Where does this money come from?”
Chad Carter, another owner of a landscaping service, said his crews require about 20 blowers. He estimated the cost of each one would go up from about $500 to $2,000.
“How am I going to pay for that?” he asked. “The customer is going to have to pay for it.”
Another speaker criticized the commission for the ban, calling it “fascist,” and attempted to discredit the commission by pointing out that Winter Park’s electricity utility purchases its power from fossil fuel sources. Commissioner Todd Weaver attempted to point out that the commission recently passed a long-term plan to move to at least 80 percent renewable energy sources.
Yet another person even likened the policy to “Hitler.”
Anderson said the idea behind the 30-month pause after the ordinance was first passed in 2022 was to give companies time to naturally upgrade their equipment under the premise that the gas-powered machines would need to be replaced every two years or so.
“We naively felt the market would work,” he said.
Weaver defended the ordinance as an improvement for environmental and public health.
“For me, this is about exceptional quality of life,” he said. “We could have done something more harsh like implement it sooner … we could have done what California does and ban all gas-powered tools.”
He said there is misinformation circulating about how the devices must be charged, which he said can be done in workers’ vehicles. He also noted the batteries are recyclable.
Anderson, who will leave office by April after the March 19 election because he is not running for another term, asked for the city to call a check-in meeting or work session with landscape companies and others in April.
Because the commission did not decide to alter the original ordinance, the issue will no longer appear on the city’s next regular meeting on Feb. 14.