In April of this year, I wrote a letter to the editor about the noise and air pollution generated by gas-powered blowers and asked the community to work with me to get these machines banned in Oak Park and River Forest. Twenty people emailed me and joined a Zoom call to organize; a smaller but devoted subgroup came together to work on this issue over the summer.

As of now, we have a petition with over 850 signatures in support of a phased-in ban on gas-powered blowers. We’ve been told that the Oak Park village trustees will vote on this issue shortly — possibly as soon as November or December.

This is a progress report to the community about what we accomplished and a call to action: If you are in favor of a ban, please contact your village trustees and, please consider adding your name to the petition (contact information for both is at the end of this piece.)

Background

Early on, our group decided to focus our efforts on Oak Park because it was further along in the process than River Forest and already had an ordinance on the books banning gas-powered blowers, based solely on noise. (This ordinance, for a variety of reasons, was not enforced.)

These are the steps we’ve taken:

  • We created an online petition calling for a phased-in ban, and from early June until Labor Day, we staffed a table outside the Oak Park Farmers Market to collect petition signatures and distribute lawn signs to raise awareness. As of now, we have over 850 signatures; the majority are from Oak Park residents.
  • We attended several village trustee meetings where the issue was discussed, talked to individual trustees, and interviewed some key folks from the Park District of Oak Park who made the switch to electric leaf blowers a few years ago (they love them). We also spoke to leaders in local environmental groups and to local retailers that sell commercial-grade equipment to lawn service companies. Finally, we met with the owners of a couple of local lawn service companies to get their thoughts about switching from gas to electric.
  • We researched the communities of Evanston, Winnetka, and Wilmette to see how they structured their recent bans on gas-powered blowers and how they dealt with the sticky issues of implementation time frames, enforcement, and community outreach. In brief, we did our homework.

We learned several key lessons:

  • There is broad and deep community support for an ordinance to ban gas-powered blowers.
  • People want to see the ban implemented as soon as possible. The village has been talking about this issue for years and given the goals of the Oak Park Climate Action Plan, now is the time to act.
  • There is a significant subset of the community concerned about equity that would like to see the village provide some type of economic assistance to small lawn service companies to help them make the transition from gas to electric blowers.
  • There is a small subset of folks who would like to see more of their neighbors replace traditional grass lawns with no-mow or native-garden lawns or at least employ more sustainable lawn care practices to protect pollinators and reduce pollution.

Call to action

The village recently hired a third-party consultancy, Metro Strategies Group, to help them work through the issues of phasing in a ban on gas-powered blowers. We’ve been told that village trustees will vote on this issue shortly — possibly as soon as November or December. Given these developments, a show of support for banning these loud, polluting, bad-for-workers and bad-for-the-environment machines is critical.

If you are in favor of a phased-in ban on gas-powered blowers, please contact the village trustees as soon as possible to express your support. Calls, emails, and letters can demonstrate broad and deep community support for such a ban.

  • The contact information for individual trustees is listed on the village website at https://www.oak-park.us/your-government/elected-officials. If you would rather contact the board of trustees as a group, please use the following email address: board@oak-park.us.
  • In addition, you can still add your name to the online petition and also read more detailed information about the issue at www.thepetitionsite.com. (Just search for Oak Park and River Forest in the upper-right corner and our petition will come up.)

Thank you to everyone who has already signed the petition. Now let’s make those phone calls, send those emails, sign the petition and get this done.

Committee members: Matthew Gnabasik, Kristi Sloniger, Ellen Edwards, Elaine Johnson, Dan Cimaglio, Lucy Byrne, and Laura Stamp.

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