Can we talk about leaf blowers? They are the salvation and bane of suburbia. If you live in a city with a postage stamp yard or in a rural area where leaves blow where they will, then you might think this column is not for you. But hold on. I want to tell you about Gody Sanchez and his vision from God.
A few years ago Los Angeles revealed her social fault lines in a political uproar about gasoline-powered leaf blowers. Wealthy glitterati in the West Hills didn’t like the raucous roar made by yard crews when they revved up their Toro tools. Environmentalists also targeted the lawn care equipment, indicating that the pollution from an hour’s worth of leaf blowing could equal 300 miles of driving a car. Under such combined pressure, L.A. outlawed leaf blowers within 500 feet of a residential area. Violations were punishable by fines up to $270 (an earlier draft sent violators directly to jail).
There was one significant problem. The city’s gardeners—who stood to lose as much as a quarter of their monthly revenues—were primarily low-income Latinos. With approximately 65,000 people in Los Angeles’ landscaping business, this was a serious issue. Before long, in the tradition of César Chávez, lawn workers united to form the Association of Latin American Gardeners. When the city didn’t respond to their pleas for help with the ordinance, a dozen opponents of the ban set up makeshift tents on the south lawn of City Hall to spotlight their situation. When that didn’t work, eight of the protesters began a hunger strike. "We have to show them the poor have hearts," said one striker. "We need the tools for our jobs."