Professional gardner Manuel Solis and his son Anthony work on 23rd Street Wednesday morning. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE — Six months after the revised ordinance banning the use of leafblowers within city limits went into effect, the Office of Sustainability and the Environment has noted a major decrease in the number of reported violations, staff said.

According to a report released last week, leafblowing activity has stopped at more than 500 properties in Santa Monica, with over 600 other violators identified.

Calls to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment have dropped since OSE began its enforcement in October 2010, and monthly violations have dropped by 60 percent since December.

The noted successes have come as a result of better education, said Neal Shapiro, the watershed program coordinator at City Hall.

“We appear to be getting more compliance, and increasingly we’re running into companies that are aware of the ordinance,” Shapiro said.

That’s a marked difference from the time period between 1991, when the leafblower ban was first adopted in Santa Monica, to October 2010 when changes went into effect.

Only sworn police officers could cite those caught with leafblowers in hand, and only if they were caught in the act of blowing.

The City Council approved changes to the ordinance on Sept. 13, 2010 which allowed OSE officials to hold accountable property owners, water customers, owners of gardening services and property managers responsible for offenses as well as the person holding the machine.

OSE officials patrol once or twice a week in four-hour time slots during different parts of the day and in different parts of the city to watch out for offenders. They concentrate on places that have known gardening schedules or past history of leafblower violations.

They also take advantage of other street time, like water waste enforcement, to find violators, snap pictures of the violation and hand out warning letters to property owners or management companies.

Members of the public can report complaints online or by phone, preferably with an exact address and picture, which can also result in a warning letter to the property owner.

According to the report, OSE received 1,133 reports of leafblower activity from members of the public, while OSE staff have observed only 167 violations.

Reports by both citizens and OSE staff have dropped over the course of the six-month observation period, from a peak of 278 violations in December to 112 in April 2011.

The heaviest concentration of violators fall north of Montana Avenue and east of 11th Street, according to a map attached to the report.

OSE gives offenders several chances to get into compliance before going the extra step to give them the $250 citation.

After the office issues a warning letter, the property owner has two weeks to send back a response letter saying that leafblowers are no longer being used at the property.

If they do, the violation is considered moot and the case is closed.

No other letters will be sent within that two week period, even if there are multiple violations in that time, Shapiro said.

That’s primarily to give homeowners a chance to receive the letter, or become aware of it if they happen to be out of town.

The office doesn’t want to issue the citations, Shapiro said.

Only 526 cases out of nearly 1,300 have been closed out, and no citations have been issued.

“We just want to educate them to alternatives that are more sustainable, and give people a chance to comply,” he said.

Leafblower activists praise Santa Monica not only for universally banning both electric and gas-powered blowers, but also for OSE’s aggressive education policy.

“Whoever came up with this change is a genius,” said Diane Wolfberg, chair of the education committee for Zero Air Pollution L.A. (ZAPLA), an anti-leafblower group. “They’re able to coordinate it in a really good way, and it must be cutting down waste in time and money from other departments.”

The group, which helped get restrictions on leafblowers passed in Los Angeles in 1998, holds Santa Monica up as the gold standard of bans.

Whereas other municipalities ban certain types of blowers, or ban them within a certain distance from homes, Santa Monica puts the kibosh on the whole deal.

“Santa Monica is our icon as the perfect place,” Wolfberg said. “It’s easy to enforce. If someone’s got a blower, it’s illegal.”

Leafblowers earned the enmity of municipalities and residents because of their noise and health effects.

The machines expel pollutants like hydrocarbons from both burned and unburned fuel that form ozone, carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter and other harmful chemicals, according to a report by the California Air Resources Board.

According to the ZAPLA website, leafblowers also expose people to pollens, dust, molds and animal residue which can be blown into the air and hang suspended for long periods of time.

For more information about leafblowers, the Santa Monica ordinance or alternatives, visit sustainablesm.org/leafblower.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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