Gas-powered leaf blowers were driving San Jose resident Marty Stuczynski crazy.
He had reached out to San Jose City Hall for years without success. While attending a video call with freshman Councilmember Matt Mahan, he mentioned the problem again. To his surprise, he was invited to start a working group with four or more residents to explore restrictions on the blowers.
Stuczynski, now chairman of the leaf blowers working group, said he’s grateful Mahan’s office took his concerns seriously.
“These gas leaf blowers are used by a lot of lawn services,” Stuczynski said. “They come into our lives every day. They’re extremely air polluting for one thing and are extremely noise polluting for another.”
This method of discovering solutions to neighborhood problems is part of a first-of-its-kind program developed by Mahan to empower San Jose residents to enact change in their communities. From beautification projects to weighing in on residential rezoning issues and drafting city ordinances, residents with shared concerns are working together to impact their neighborhoods and shape local policy.
More than 75 residents have connected through seven working groups so far. Other issues include clean creeks, mental health services, street racing and San Jose Water Company rates.
“I think it’s a very exciting opportunity,” said Matthew Quevedo, chief of staff for Mahan. “It’s really exciting to see these folks coming together. It brings residents into the policy-making process.”
A different response
Rather than sending a prepared statement to the 100+ complaints his office receives daily, Mahan decided to connect like-minded people with shared goals and gave them the tools and resources to organize and build political power.
“If we wall ourselves off as an office of six people in the ivory tower of City Hall and just send residents a canned response to every concern, we’re missing a huge opportunity to tap into the energy and resources of our community,” Mahan said.
His office welcomes residents from other districts to start or join District 10 working groups. Mahan said he also hopes to see other districts start similar programs to learn from each other.
To enact a policy change, the councilmember and staff help the residents write a policy proposal, which goes through the formal legislative process, including subcommittees, before going heading to the City Council for a vote.
For working groups focused on beautification or service projects, Mahan asks residents to identify projects and locations, recruit volunteers and provide resources. “With a highly organized community, we could have a service project every weekend,” he said. “Without more capacity, we’re limited.”
Stuczynski’s working group wants the city to ban gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of electric models.
Mahan said he favors phasing in regulation over a few years, using revenue from San Jose Clean Energy to do a buy-back program to help landscaping companies make the transition. Mahan said for small landscaping businesses with a few employees, upgrading expensive equipment is a financial hardship.
The group is looking at ordinances from other cities which have banned gas-powered leaf blowers, including Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Mahan said they would have to meet with officials from the Environmental Services Department, San Jose Clean Energy and local landscaping companies.
Any group of residents who want to organize to influence local issues can form a working group, the lawmaker said. They must identify a chair, come up with a one-page charter and meet regularly. Staff provides support by attending meetings, providing input, channeling questions to appropriate departments, promoting events and assisting in drafting ordinances.
For the leaf blowers group, the goal is to create a memo to city councilmembers and an outline for an ordinance by the end of the year. Previous attempts by the city to ban gas leaf blowers and fund a buyback program went nowhere.
Stuczynski said he’s excited to finally be making headway in his endeavor.
“In San Jose, we pay a lot of lip service to being sustainable and green and high tech,” he said. “It’s been extremely frustrating to see the City Council not get on board with an initiative like this. So, to have Matt’s office get on board…is very energizing.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]