San Jose to tackle noisy trains and gas leaf blowers
Photo courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad

Noisy leaf blowers and blaring late-night trains. San Jose legislators will take them both on during a meeting this week.

A San Jose City Council committee on Wednesday will accept a report from city officials about funding a buy-back program for gasoline-powered lawn equipment, which environmentalists say create air pollution and health risks. The council twice had considered banning gas leaf blowers altogether, but could not muster enough votes. Councilors again declined to prioritize the issue earlier this year.

But now city officials are researching a buy-back program and funding opportunities from the state’s cap-and-trade program or other programs.

“Gasoline-powered lawn equipment (e.g., lawn mowers and leaf blowers) create local air pollution through the burning of fossil fuels,” wrote Environmental Services Director Kerrie Romanow in a memo. “Furthermore, gasoline-powered lawn equipment present health risks for landscape workers by exposing them to ultrafine particles and potential hearing damage due to related noise.”

In the Bay Area, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto and Mountain View have banned gas leaf blowers. There are no cities in Santa Clara County with bans on gas-powered lawn mowers.

About 70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.

Romanow suggested soliciting funding for a buy-back program — to replace gas-powered equipment with electric ones — through a few different sources. One is a program through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District that funds the purchase of
new zero-emission, battery-powered equipment in exchange for gas-powered equipment, including leaf blowers. The
program is first-come, first-served until funds are fully exhausted.

Other potential sources for funding, Romanow said, include the California Air Resources Board, state cap-and-trade funds and San Jose’s clean energy program, the city’s community-choice energy plan.

“The successful launch of San Jose Clean Energy has the potential to generate funding to support programs such as energy efficiency, fuel switching, and demand reduction,” Romanow said.

Noisy overnight trains

The committee on Wednesday also will discuss a study to create a federally-mandated “Quiet Zone” on Union Pacific Railroad’s Warm Springs Subdivision amid a spike in noisy train traffic.

The proposal from Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez and Dev Davis suggests a quiet zone would preserve the health and safety of residents. The increase in overnight trains came after the railroad agency in October made operating changes, the lawmakers said, without consulting area residents.

“Residents may now see more trains moving in multiple directions and at different times,” Liccardo, Peralez, Jimenez and Davis wrote in a memo. “Aside from the physical impacts from this change, the lack of proactive outreach and disengagement
from UPRR is concerning for a plethora of reasons including but are not limited to homelessness, blight, and graffiti.”

Since there is no quiet zone in the Warm Springs Subdivision, train crews are required to blow the horn as they approach several crossings located in this corridor.

“Rail service is occurring during late-night hours on the Union Pacific Railroad, through Downtown SJ neighborhoods disrupting the sleep of our residents,” Peralez tweeted. “We are exploring all possibilities to restore the peace and quiet our residents need.”

Mobile home park protections

Also during the meeting, lawmakers will consider supporting Assembly Bill 705 from Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valkey) to bolster protections for mobile home park residents. The bill would require owners to provide at least 60 days notice to residents if they intend to change the land use and ensure the change would not result in an unmitigated loss of affordable housing.

Although San Jose has local mobile home park protections, some housing activists say it’s not enough. The issue blew up when the owners of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park decided to sell their land for redevelopment, displacing elderly residents from 111 units.

Current law requires the preservation of mobile homes, said Councilmember Jimenez, but the enforcement mechanisms are inconsistent and can result in the loss of mobile home spaces.

‘On several occasions I have stated that we need to protect our affordable housing stock with the same vigor we protect our threatened employment lands,” Jimenez said in his proposal. “Furthermore, we know for a fact that if mobile home residents are displaced they will likely have no comparable housing available to them in San Jose or even Santa Clara County.”

San Jose is home to about 35,000 mobile home park residents, the largest number of mobile home households in any city in California.

The city’s Rules and Open Government Committee meets 2 p.m. Wednesday inside San Jose City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

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