This report focuses on the issues behind the push to vote no on the leaf-blower bylaw. A separate story about those favoring the bylaw was published July 11.
For Arlington landscapers, it's summertime and the livin' is ... hard. Long, hot days directing international crews wielding rakes, brooms, mowers and leaf blowers.
This summer is harder: Add the pressure of a special election, set for July 19.
The odds are long for landscapers. For an estimated 29,000 registered voters, turnout will have to be significantly higher than is typical for a town election for a vote to succeed. In the last 11 town elections, excluding overrides, the turnout has averaged a little over 22 percent. For overrides, the turnout is almost 49 percent. See the charts below.
The Arlington Landscape Association seeks 6,000 no votes, a number it believes will be enough to repeal a town bylaw aimed at banning leaf blowers on private property between May 15 and Oct. 15.
To finance the effort, the group raised $11,225 and spent $10,559, according to a campaign-finance report filed July 11. Joe Kerble, its treasurer, said June 28 the group was aiming for $10,000.
Globe, July 8: Do bans work?
View of landscape business owner
"It was not well thought out," said Joseph Cusce Jr., referring to the bylaw Town Meeting passed May 14 in a 95-85 vote.
In an interview June 25 at the small Ryder Street office where he runs Black Diamond Landscapes, Cusce said: "If leaf blowers are banned -- what next? Push mowers? Snow plows? Will we make senior citizens shovel their driveways?"
The 34-year-old who was wearing a black T-shirt sporting his company's logo and who has owned Black Diamond for 11 years, maintained that the Board of Selectmen had forced his organization "into a corner."
At its May 21 meeting, selectmen voted to support the right of landscapers to pursue a special election. The board also rejected, 1-4, a motion by Chairman Kevin Greeley to add a nonbinding ballot question on the issue to next spring's town election. Greeley was the lone supporter.
Landscapers say a special election was their last, best option, and so they pursued it with fervor. With just days to collect the required 854 signatures of registered voters, landscape interests drew a total of about 1,400, Cusce said.
It is not known how many of these signatures are by those connected to landscape businesses, but Cusce estimated Arlington has about 20 such businesses, and he made clear "quick backlash" following the May 14 Town Meeting vote was from a broad spectrum of residents.
Election gives residents a voice
Cusce said the special election gives residents to have a voice on this issue and to exercise their power beyond that of their representatives in Town Meeting.
George Laite, long a political activist in Arlington and who represented the landscapers before the selectmen May 21 as a private citizen, agreed. "Voters are more sacred," he said in a separate interview June 25.
He noted that the tradition of giving Voters the right to override legislative bodies dates to 1780, when the state Constitution, drafted by John Adams.
How many will use this sacred opportunity? Laite called getting out the vote "a formidable task."
Effort bucks long odds on no vote
Here's why: Under state law, the special election will be held on a weekday -- and not just any, but a midsummer Thursday, when many may be on vacation, though absentee ballot are already coming in.
Voting hours will be fewer than is a regular town election, from 2 to 8 p.m.
To improve their chances, the landscapers expect to provide about 200 lawn signs. Against a green background, the white letters urge a no vote.
The landscapers began advertising their cause in local media in June, and they are pushing their messages via a website (http://arlingtonlandscapeassociation.com/) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/ArlingtonLandscapeAssociation).
Key issues pushing both sides
Asked about the key issues driving both sides of those involved in the special election, Cusce provided thumbnail sketches of each from his group's perspective:
- Noise: All leaf blowers that town landscapers fall well below the 85-decibel limit required under current bylaws, he said.
He said trucks are noisier, particularly Dumpsters. "You know," he said, "You hear them bouncing down the street."
He said he was told by the town's Department of Health that if noise were an issue, it would have already been addressed via citations. Christine Connelly, head of town health and human services, has been asked to comment.
- Emissions: "Lots of things produce worse emissions," he said, citing cars, buses and motorcycles.
He said data produced at Town Meeting "was over 10 years old" and that the technology behind leaf blowers "has come a long way."
"What about street sweepers?" he asked. "Don't those kick up dust and dirt?"
- Fairness: "Why does the bylaw let those on public property off the hook?" he asked. "Why the double standard?"
"Other municipalities are watching us," he said.
They include Brookline, where a partial ban similar to the one here took effect in June. Brookline Town Meeting passed the measure last fall.
Referring to such a ban, he said Marblehead "shot it down." That occurred in June, according to Boston.com.
In May, Framingham Town Meeting turned back by a wide margin an attempt for a total ban on leaf blowers.
Economic impact cuts two ways
The economic consequence of the election is an issue that Cusce did not directly address, but Laite did.
He cited the recent recession, the worst since the Great Depression, saying the leaf-blower bylaw adversely affects the income of primarily blue-collar workers. In winter, many landscapers plow, and last winter's lack of snow provided few opportunities.
Curtailing months when leaf blowers can be used, he said, will likely result in higher costs to consumers or less income for landscapers.
The election's other economic impact is its cost -- an estimated $25,000 to $30,000. Weighed against the cost of a Special Town Meeting, $5,000 to $6,000, the public may well ask why landscapers did not take that route.
Laite said that during his discussion with landscapers about the options they could pursue, including a Special Town Meeting, he was of a "mixed mind" about this and thought "it might have made sense to go another route."
Given the options he presented, he said the landscapers chose to seek a special election. "The main question landscapers asked," he said, "is: Why can't we vote?"
Laite sees the landscapers' involvement, mainly by political newcomers, positively. "They are actually taking an active role" in their government, he said.
View would have Special Town Meeting later
Kerble, the group's treasurer, who operates Brothers Lawn Service, provided his perspective July 1:
"The short answer is that we pursued the referendum approach mostly because of a timing issue. Our understanding is that the Board of Selectmen can call a Special Town Meeting [STM] at anytime without the need to collect signatures for either the meeting or for a warrant article.
"At this time, the Board of Selectmen have not called for a Special Town Meeting ....
"More to the point, we did not see the reason behind calling a STM before a referendum, since there has been no new information available to Town Meeting members to act on.
"If the referendum is favorable, a majority voting to overturn the ban, but fails to meet the required 20% hurdle, then that would be new information a special Town Meeting could act on.
"Along with the recommendations from the committee formed by the Board of Selectmen, consisting of all proponents of the ban and opponents to a ban, chaired by George Laite, this would be new information a Special Town Meeting could act upon in crafting a more acceptable bylaw in place of the seasonal ban."
This story was first published Monday, July 2, 2012, and updated July 8 to include a link to a Globe story as well as July 11.