CITY HALL — In a move meant to crackdown on illegal leaf blowing, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to change the way City Hall enforces its ban on the noisy machines and opted to spend $55,000 to hire a new leaf blower point person.

Instead of relying on police officers to issue leaf blowing citations, City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment will take over enforcement responsibility.

In another change from the old enforcement procedures, OSE staff will have the authority to cite property owners, water customers, owners and operators of gardening or landscape maintenance services, property management companies, and leaf blower operators. Under the old rules, police officers were only authorized to cite leaf blower operators for violating the ordinance.

Rather than writing tickets, OSE staff plans to enforce the ban the same way City Hall enforces its water conservation and urban runoff ordinances. Staff will patrol the city looking for violations and will conduct site visits in response to residents’ complaints.

Use of leaf blowers, whether gas powered or electric, has long been illegal in Santa Monica. But with violations receiving low priority from the Santa Monica Police Department, many residents complained the ban was going virtually unenforced.

With Tuesday’s decision, council members said they hoped they had reached a solution.

A City Hall report on the new enforcement mechanism stated those caught violating the leaf blower ordinance will receive a warning for a first offense. If the violation continues, “the property owner or property management company would be cited, although any of the involved parties may be cited as well,” the report read.

Momentum for the ordinance change built after the idea received passionate backing from neighborhood groups including the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition, which in June passed a resolution urging the council to include funding for the new leaf blower enforcement scheme in this year’s budget.

“The current lack of enforcement reduces the quality of our lives in Santa Monica not only in the obvious ways of noise and pollution, but also by reducing the respect for all laws in our city,” the group’s resolution stated. “Wilmont members do understand that leaf-blower enforcement would necessitate budget cuts elsewhere, but we are willing to live with that consequence.”

On Tuesday, the ordinance change was uncontroversial, receiving little discussion before it was unanimously approved.

New fines for leaf blower offenses have not yet been set and will be subject to council approval at a future meeting. The existing criminal fines and/or jail time for violating the ordinance will remain on the books, though City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said it’s virtually impossible anyone would spend time behind bars for violating the leaf blower ordinance.

City Hall is also planning to conduct an outreach and education campaign about the new ordinance, with materials available in English and Spanish.

nickt@smdp.com

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