CITY HALL — City Council on Tuesday decided it will consider changing its stance on leaf blowers and gourmet food trucks, but gave few details about potential new ordinances on either topic.
All types of mechanical leaf blowers, whether gas-powered or electric, will remain illegal in Santa Monica, but the council will look at the possibility of shifting fines for violations from gardeners who use the machines to property owners who allow them to be used on their lawns.
Though leaf blowers have been banned since the 1990s, the Santa Monica Police Department has admitted that the use of leaf blowers remains widespread because of difficulties enforcing the ban.
The council voted 4-1 to begin drafting a revamped leaf blower ordinance, but several council members raised concerns about the possible change.
The proposal before the council was to draft an ordinance that would shift fines to homeowners and move enforcement responsibility from the police to City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It would cost an additional $50,000 a year for that office to enforce an updated ordinance.
Before the vote, however, Councilman Kevin McKeown, who had placed the item on the agenda, broadened his motion to ask staff to look into other potential fixes as well.
Another idea that was discussed involved providing contracts explaining the leaf blower ban that homeowners could require gardeners to sign.
Though Councilman Richard Bloom voted to look into changing the leaf blower ordinance, he said he’s undecided about how the updated ordinance should look.
“I’m not convinced that this fairly dramatic shift in the law and shift in responsibility as to who’s going to do the enforcement is necessarily the right way to go,” he said.
Councilwoman Gleam Davis, who also supported the leaf blower motion, said she had concerns about the legality of holding property owners responsible, noting that not all properties are owned by a single individual and assigning blame for an infraction could become complicated.
“I would like to hear a more thorough discussion about it before deciding on a particular course of action, but I’m all for enforcing the leaf blower statute,” Davis said.
Councilman Bob Holbrook, who voted against the motion, said landscaping businesses that are licensed by City Hall should be accountable for following city code.
“I see my gardener about twice a year … and I can’t guarantee that he’s following the law or not because I barely ever see him,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the City Council directed staff to begin work on an ordinance that would create guidelines for allowing food trucks to operate on private property.
The issue arose this month after property owner Steve Taub allowed several gourmet food trucks to do business on his vacant lot at 14th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
The so-called “mobile food court” attracted hundreds of customers but was quickly shut down by Santa Monica’s code enforcement department, which said zoning laws didn’t allow private property to be used for hosting food trucks.
With a unanimous vote, the council directed staff to start working on an ordinance that would address food truck operations on private land.
Speaking to the council, John Bowler, president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said crafting a new food truck ordinance would benefit the city.
“I think that we’re onto something here that none of us anticipated,” he said, mentioning the large and diverse crowd that came out to the food truck lot on its first and only day in business.
“Santa Monica has a very well deserved reputation of often be on the cutting edge of trends. … I think this is a perfect place to carry on [this trend],” he said.
As with the leaf blower item, council members made it clear they are only beginning to address the issue and will have plenty of questions before any new law is approved.
McKeown said the council will have to carefully consider potential impacts of allowing a mobile food court in the city, especially in residential neighborhoods that could see increased traffic as a result. He said that although the council is interested in looking into allowing a mobile food court to operate in the city, there’s no guarantee the makeshift version that sprang up earlier this month would be permitted.
“No promises to anybody on that particular site or exactly how this is going to go,” McKeown said.