Councilman Kalra Wants San Jose to Ban Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers

Councilman Ash Kalra, the man who led a failed effort to outlaw sugary and fatty drinks from all city properties, now wants to deliver San Jose from the evils of gas-powered leaf blowers. In a memo to the Rules and Open Government Committee, the District 2 representative proposes banning their use from all but commercial businesses.

“The continuous operation of a leaf blower over the course of an hour produces as much tailpipe emissions as a vehicle traveling over 100 miles,” Kalra writes in his memo. “Unlike vehicles, gas-powered leaf blowers disperse the pollutants over a much smaller area, causing the operator, as well as surrounding inhabitants, to come into contact with the increased pollution.”

San Jose would not be alone in enacting such an ordinance. Cities like Sunnyvale and Palo Alto already prohibit the gas-fueled yard tools, Kalra notes. While this for-the-greater-good plan fits in with the city’s goal to lower carbon emissions, it will likely fall int the next-to-impossible to enforce category.

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for December 4, 2013:

• While the San Jose grapples with how to create more new affordable housing, a group of senior citizens want the city to protect existing low-cost developments, like mobile home parks.

“Study after study presented to the [City] Council has shown that San Jose has a critical need for more affordable housing,” Martha O’Connell writes. “As you struggle with this vital issue, the senior commission urges you to remember that mobile homes are one of the last bastions of affordable housing, especially for seniors.”

For many elderly residents, their mobile home is the single-most valuable asset they own, O’Connell points out, and most residents who live below the poverty level wouldn’t be able to live elsewhere in the region—one of the most expensive in the nation.

O’Connell’s letter comes as many mobile home park residents worry that the landowners will raise rent or sell off the parks to developers, given the rising price of real estate. A petition from Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park in San Jose, which began circulating a few months ago, begged the city to hold off on rezoning their park to be included in a parcel slated for new development—a move that could displace nearly 150 mostly fixed-income residents.

In Palo Alto, the city’s last remaining mobile home park faces closure because the landowners want to sell it to developers to make way for luxury condos. In San Jose, 57 of the city’s 58 mobile home parks lie within a mile of proposed urban village development—sites slated for new mixed-use apartments and condos. New development means bigger profits for landowners and higher property tax revenues for the city, which puts mobile homes at risk of phasing out.

“I’ll tell you what: most people who live in my mobile home park live below the poverty level,” Dave Johnsen, a 77-year-old Winchester Ranch resident, said. “I can move—it wouldn’t devastate me. But a lot of people here can’t. They would have to leave this city to afford anything.”

City Manager spokesman Dave Vossbrink says San Jose’s municipal code already includes provisions that would protect mobile home park residents, partly by compensating them if they’re ever displaced.

Most of the conversation around affordable housing these days excludes older homes, however. A report released Monday by the Housing Trust Silicon Valley and Cities Association of Santa Clara County defined affordable homes as subsidized multifamily housing for families that make less than 50 percent of the region’s median income.

This week, the city tabled a discussion until next year on whether to add a construction tax for new-home development to pay for affordable housing. The tax, called a housing impact fee, would add anywhere from $14 to $24 per square foot for all new residential development. Revenue from the fee would make up for a fraction of that lost when the state shuttered all redevelopment agencies (RDAs), which set aside one-fifth of their money to build cheaper homes. That money’s gone now. In 2008, the county’s 15 cities had $126 million in revenue for new affordable housing. This year, that figure’s dropped to $47.3 million.

Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Fremont, San Carlos and Santa Clara already passed impact fees to make up for that disparity. San Jose passed a similar fee a few years ago—the inclusionary housing fee, which requires 15 percent of all new developments to sell at a below-market rate or pay an in-lieu fee. But the California Building Industry Association sued the city over the requirement, arguing that there’s no proof that new market-rate housing creates a need for subsidized units. Plus, subsidizing 15 or 20 percent of new-home construction forces developers to jack up the prices on remaining inventory, the association noted in a study on impact fees.

Regardless of whether the city decides to impose another housing fee, should be more emphasis on protecting existing affordable homes, the Housing Trust study stated.

“Protecting existing housing, whether already affordable or naturally affordable is also important,” the report said. “Cities can adopt policies to limit the conversion of mobile homes or apartments, which can displace some of the area’s most needy residents.”

James Zahradka, an attorney for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, says mobile homes play an important role by giving people affordable options without government subsidies.

“And because many mobile home residents own their homes, they actually have equity in their homes, unlike folks who are renting apartments, condos or single-family homes,” he said. “Our local leaders should make protecting the mobile home parks we have left a priority, and this is an issue that San Jose in particular needs to pay attention to as it moves forward on its Urban Villages strategies, which could end up displacing many of these residents and permanently destroying this form of affordable housing if not carried out with an eye to equity.”

• David Wall told the city to repent its buffooneries and pay its police the 10 percent it “stole” from them (those salary cuts of years past) and offer them a contract that “makes them whole.”

• And in a sampling of his other letters for the public record. Wall opines about the housing impact fee, too: “One of the bastard children sired from the venereal disease-infested loins of the RDA was funding for ‘affordable housing’ projects. With the death of the RDAs, a new political venereal disease known as the ‘housing impact fee’ is being hoisted on the marketplace to fund subsidized housing projects that pay no property taxes.”

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408-535-1260

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Martha O’Connell is still chair of the senior commission. Joyce Rabourn has assumed that title. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


    • Agreed.  As a society, noise pollution is out of control.  It is time to fight back, and put a stop to ubiquitous, unnecessary noise pollution.  Boom-boom cars, stereos (or bands) in the backyard, loud mufflers, no mufflers (general aviation airplanes), etc. all have to stop.  Noise has been proven countless times to cause stress and negative physical responses in humans. 

      While I can avoid sugary drinks, I cannot avoid unnecessary noise.  It is a physical assault on my body, and I am tired of it.

  1. Ban, ban, ban.  Ban wood burning fireplace, ban plastic bags, ban sugary drinks, ban leaf blowers, ban styrofoam, yada, yada. Ash, I have always been a supporter of yours, but this is starting to get old and sickening.

  2. Mr Kalra seems to want to be the morality police in San Jose which is pretty funny coming from the sitting councilmember who was arrested for DUI.  How about you work on you following existing laws first Ash before trying to limit the legal things the public can do?

    • Mr. Kalra was arrested once for a DUI. How much longer do you need to stick it to him? As if he’s not paying his restitution. If he’s such a morally bankrupt individual, there’s the recall process. That process has not been initiated against Mr. Kalra so I think it’s high time you get over it. Else prove your moral superiority and replace him on the City Council. Then we’ll have a representative who never drinks and gets caught, we can run our gas powered leaf blowers all we want, and drink as many sugar-filled sodas as possible! Hooray!!!!!!

      • C’mon, a DUI conviction will always be fair game.

        I think there might be as many as 9 sitting council members that have never been convicted of a DUI.  These things are not that common.

  3. So are our highminded leaders truly interested in affordable housing? Or will they find the lure of higher property tax revenue impossible to resist?
    I suspect the latter.
    One by one they’ll approve zoning changes that will lead to the demolition of evil asbestos laden trailer parks and their replacement with revenue generating politically correct high density urban villages.
    And what’ll happen with all this extra revenue? Hmmm?

    Pension increases.

  4. I do my own yard work so I’ve noticed that a lot of other people’s stuff gets blown over to my curb when I’m not around.  It never happens when I’m out front, just like the dogs that poop in my yard never do it when I’m around.  These are not mechanical or dog problems.  These are people problems.

    A ban wouldn’t have much effect on the people that do their own yard work, but it would stop the people that get paid from using gas leaf blowers.  Those people are supposed to have business licenses.  That’s where the leverage is.

  5. We should not stop at leaf blowers.  If noise is the issue, then SJ needs to ban chain saws, wood chippers, Harleys, cawing crows, modified cars with removed cat converters, train whistles, jet engines, and garbage trucks at 7am. 

    Why do politicians have this obsession with leaf blowers?

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