Tomorrow’s the day: Lexington’s polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can double-check your precinct’s voting location here. If you read yesterday’s newsletter, you’ll know that there’s plenty of room for improvement in our town’s voter turnout – one reason it is worth your time to get out and vote.
 

To recap, candidates on this year’s ballot include your precinct’s Town Meeting Members, the incumbent Town Moderator, two Select Board incumbents, one Planning Board incumbent, and three School Committee candidates vying for two seats.

But even the contested School Committee race has not catalyzed as much impassioned debate as the ballot question you’ll face tomorrow. Voters will decide whether or not Lexington will restrict and, most importantly, phase out gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs) beginning in 2025. First passed by a roughly 85% majority in last fall’s Special Town Meeting, Article 10 is a lightning rod. A ‘yes’ vote approves Town Meeting’s original vote in favor of the restrictions and phase-out; a ‘no’ vote would overturn Town Meeting’s vote. 

A referendum to overturn a Town Meeting resolution is unusual, with few precedents in the town’s recent history; such a vote was last held in 2002, and a handful took place throughout the second half of the 20th century, according to an election history record. Of the 15 votes the Town has held, seven have succeeded at reversing the Town Meeting votes in question. In each year of a ballot question, voter turnout is higher than the town’s average, usually exceeding 30% and sometimes even surpassing 50%.

As you probably know, two campaigns are making the case for your vote: Quiet Clean Lexington would have you vote ‘yes’, and Lexington Citizen for Choice believes you should vote ‘no.’ LexObserver previously reported on the views of Precinct 2 candidates, the only contested Town Meeting precinct race, on this ballot question; the majority, though not all, were in favor of the “yes” campaign supported by Quiet Clean Lexington. Select Board Candidate Joe Pato has said he supports the Town Meeting vote, despite originally abstaining to gauge the depth of support; Candidate Suzie Barry voted against passing Article 10 as amended, and has expressed reservations with the final motion passed.

Depending on which campaign you support, you may fundamentally disagree with the other side about the key issues at stake in this referendum. What are those key issues, and why have they polarized our community?March 6 Sunday Special: Cutting through the noise on gas-powered leaf blowers

Reported by Sophie Culpepper

(Photos: Sophie Culpepper / LexObserver)

SECTIONS:

  • The science shows the GLBs have health and environmental consequences. But many landscapers say switching to weaker, battery-powered equipment is not yet feasible.
  • From noise, to pollution, to health.
  • Who decides what’s safe for workers?
  • Can landscapers reasonably make this transition? Who has already gone electric?
  • Should there be any exceptions?
  • What are the potential costs of the phaseout for consumers?
  • Are there measures in place to financially support landscaping companies in this transition?
  • How we got here.
  • Who’s paying for these campaigns?

  —


What do you need to know about the leaf blower referendum?
 

The science shows the GLBs have health and environmental consequences. But many landscapers say switching to weaker, battery-powered equipment is not yet feasible.

Article 10 is not just about leaf blowers: It’s about values and democratic process. 

“One person said to me recently, ‘this is not a town where we let people take advantage of others, – we’re supposed to look out for each other. And this is unfair to a lot of people,’” said Noise Advisory Committee Chair and Quiet Clean Lexington Co-Chair Dan Koretz. He was talking about GLBs and their detrimental health and environmental impacts on the community. But, the Choice campaign might make the same exact statement about phasing out GLBs; they might say that the phase-out itself is an example of community members failing to look out for small businesses.

Some community members also reject the phaseout application to community members who do their own landscaping (which kicks in one year later than for commercial landscapers, in 2026). But interviews, town forums and campaign finance reports all suggest that the campaign opposing a phaseout of GLBs is primarily driven by concerns from and for local commercial landscapers – so this article focuses primarily on that particular set of concerns with regard to the ‘no’ campaign.

 

From noise, to pollution, to health

Before Article 10 morphed into a layered community touchpoint, its origin was straightforward: A lot of Lexingtonians cannot stand the noise of gas-powered leaf blowers.

“When this started years ago, it was actually not first primarily about the workers; it was about residents,” Koretz said: “Lexington residents who said ‘this has become insufferable.’” They complained about not being able to go outside, or work, due to the maddening, inescapable volume.

During the pandemic, with adults working from home and kids in remote learning, those complaints multiplied. “We got a lot of residents saying we can’t work and our kids can’t do their schoolwork, because it’s so damn noisy in this house,” Koretz said, adding that many directly acknowledged that pandemic conditions had heightened their awareness of the sheer racket the machines make.

You don’t need a decibel meter to know that GLBs are loud. Koretz, and others, have repeatedly pointed out that gas-powered leaf blowers violate existing legal noise limits which are nearly impossible to enforce for fast-working landscaping crews, since doing so typically requires measuring noise levels in real time. Noise isn’t just a nuisance – it can have health consequences including hearing loss, increasing stress and, in some cases of sustained exposure, high blood pressure.

“A no vote means giving landscapers complete carte blanche to violate previously existing law by as much as they want, anytime they want,” Koretz said. Because it’s easier to enforce noise restrictions in longer-term loud activities like construction, landscapers are the ones who can disregard this law, Koretz added – “we don’t give that kind of prerogative to anybody else.”

Chris Stratford, the owner of a Lexington-based landscaping company and a campaign supporter of Lexington Citizens for Choice, says landscapers were willing to consider reducing noise through seasonal restrictions – and submitted extensive input about making such restrictions manageable. But he says a phase-out is about more than noise – and it is, though noise is still an important piece of the picture.

Another major case for the machines to be eliminated emphasizes air pollution. Proponents cite research including a 2011 study showing GLBs are dirtier than a pick-up truck, and more recent research reiterates that these machines have high emissions. Stratford claims that at least some GLBs have gotten cleaner since the 2011 study – still pollutive, but less so than that study suggests, in part due to the increased use of synthetic oils.

But that GLBs create pollution is undisputed; even landscapers championing the Citizens for Choice Campaign acknowledge that a transition to cleaner (and quieter) machinery must happen eventually. “We are not against cleaner, quieter alternatives when they are feasible,” Stratford said. “But that time is just not now.” 

Some contend that the batteries used in electric leaf blowers mean those machines hurt the environment just as much due to the extremely damaging impact of lithium mining. It’s worth recalling that gas-powered leaf blowers are generally fueled by petroleum mining, and if you’re going to compare apples to apples, it makes more sense to compare the mining of petroleum to that of lithium (both bad) – and the output of battery-powered leaf blowers to that of gas-powered leaf blowers. Sustainable Lexington representative Archana Dayalu, an environmental scientist and the Chair of Quiet Clean Lexington, has stressed this point in town forums – and Sustainable Lexington previously provided an official letter of support for Article 10 at Fall Town Meeting. 

The pollutive aspects of GLBs don’t just harm the planet: Both the gases they emit and the noise they create can harm people, especially the workers closest to the machines. Noise impacts can also be worse for residents with “disorders related to hearing perception” including ADHD and autism. After discussion, the Lexington Board of Health voted unanimously in support of Article 10 based on its ramifications for public health prior to Fall Town Meeting. 

From a procedural perspective, a number of Citizens for Choice campaigners question why a change to Town code about noise, recommended by the Noise Advisory Committee, is being used to regulate issues that are also very much a question of health and the environment. But while environment and health may sit beyond the NAC purview, Koretz stressed that Town Meeting, as the town’s legislative body, is responsible for all of these values – and was the body that chose to pass Article 10. 

“Not only does Town Meeting have the right to consider public health; they have the obligation to consider public health – that’s part of their job,” he said. To dismiss Article 10 on the grounds that the proposal originated in the Noise Advisory Committee and has mushroomed into a bigger issue “makes no sense,” he added. Noise, environment and health “are all important issues” in the coalition of Article 10 supporters.

Who decides what’s safe for workers?

Koretz, and other Quiet Clean proponents, have argued that the landscaping company owners do not have the right to make decisions damaging to the health of their workers. He has said it’s important to “separate two groups: the people who own the firms, and the people who are holding the blowers.” He says the latter group, which in many cases includes immigrant workers, don’t necessarily have a voice in their working conditions – meaning the use of GLBs, in his view, is “harming a relatively powerless workforce.” 

But all three Lexingtonian landscaping company owners who spoke with LexObserver and are fiercely advocating to repeal this regulation don’t sit in offices dictating worker activity – they do the same work as their crews. To say otherwise suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of their industry, they say. “Landscaping is one of those jobs where it is far and few between…where the owner just drives around, or sits in an office and does estimates,” Stratford said. “You are out there day in, day [out] with your employees.” 

These landscapers say they would rather take the noise and toxicity of GLBs than work with heavier, less efficient battery-powered leaf blowers. “I’m looking out for my back as well,” Stratford said, since he anticipates doing the more labor-intensive landscaping work himself should Article 10 stand.

Landscaper Jody Modoono, the treasurer of the Citizens for Choice campaign, agreed. At a time when finding workers is already tough, making the job more physically taxing by requiring weaker equipment means “employment is the biggest question mark,” and the change could even push some workers toward quitting, in his view.

In response to a follow-up question, Koretz clarified that while landscapers have the right to make decisions about their own health, they do not have the right to jeopardize their workers. “It’s not unethical that [they’re] foolish enough to breathe stuff [themselves]. But it is unethical to force [other] workers to do it,” he said.

Can landscapers reasonably make this transition? Who has already gone electric?

Koretz, and the Quiet Clean Lexington campaign, say the motion Town Meeting passed in the fall sets a feasible transition in motion, providing about three years for commercial landscapers to phase out existing equipment.

Lexington would not be the first community to implement a phase-out of GLBs – though it is the first in Massachusetts to pass a phase-out. A handful of other nearby communities, such as Brookline, impose seasonal and noise restrictions, and Newton sought to eliminate the machines by regulating noise levels, rather than banning GLBs themselves (and ran into trouble with enforcement) – but no other communities statewide have yet established end dates for the permitted use of GLBs. Boston is beginning to discuss limiting the use of GLBs, and explicitly cited Lexington’s Town-Meeting approved phase-out in the order for a hearing – an example of the ripple effects local decisions like this can have.

Casting a wider net, more communities have taken this kind of action and are talking about doing so – though those that have are still in the minority. A national nonprofit, Quiet Communities, is dedicated to reducing health and environmental impacts from noise and pollution – including by targeting landscaping equipment. 

Washington, D.C. is about three years ahead of Lexington in its own phase-out, which was passed in 2018 and went into effect this January. In fact, D.C.’s campaign to ban GLBs, documented in an Atlantic article by one of the organizers, reads almost like a blueprint for Lexington’s campaign, and even shares the ‘Quiet Clean’ name. But Koretz says there is no national affiliation, and that the Lexington contingent selected the same name independently, despite being aware of the article – pointing out that the issues at stake (noise and pollution) lent themselves to the same tagline, which e.g. Portland has also adopted. 

On a state level, California has passed a statewide ban on the sale of GLBs beginning in 2024. But perhaps Larchmont, NY is among the most comparable settings to Lexington for this issue; they implemented a phaseout of GLBs earlier this year.

George Carrette, a local landscaper who founded and has run a business using electric equipment since 2014, has maintained in public forums that electric equipment is workable – but very different from GLBs. Electric leaf blowers are heavier and less powerful, so relying on them means changing the way you do landscaping. For instance, he says the change means using additional tools, including leaf plows, to do on-site disposal and compensate for the weaker machines. He’s suggested that residents commissioning landscapers reconsider the foundations of their yards to facilitate cleanups powered by electric leaf blowers, e.g. by planting more evergreen trees to lower their leaf loads. 

Landscapers supporting the Citizens for Choice campaign are well aware of these existing electric operations. But they say converting their own entire business models and operations is currently unfeasible.

One way to understand this: The Quiet Clean campaign is calling moving to battery-powered equipment a technological step forward. But some landscapers see it as, in a way, the exact opposite.

Because electric leaf blowers are less powerful, Modoono compared the change to going from a new computer “back to the Windows 95 operating system.” 

Landscaper and Lexingtonian Mike Keegan, the Chairman of the Citizens for Choice campaign, said moving to electric leaf blowers was like asking someone like Koretz, a retired Harvard professor, “to go back to using a blackboard and a piece of chalk” rather than using PowerPoint and a computer. Lexington wants landscapers “to go back to 1985,” in his view.

While affirming that this transition has to happen eventually, Stratford said he could not know specifically when the transition would be feasible, saying it would be so “when the equipment reaches an adequate place in time where costs are semi-comparable. And more importantly, when power is comparable.” He drew a comparison with electric cars: When first released, “it sounded great to say oh, within five years, all electrical cars – and you can see how long it’s taken to that point.” While he hopes that electric leaf blowers may be feasible in a five to 10 year timeframe, “I’m not willing to risk my business, [and] my clients’ hard-earned money, to put an actual number finger on it,” he said.

Per Stratford, transitioning to what Carrette already does “is not comparing apples to oranges.” He thinks transitioning to weaker electric blowers would double or triple the time required to clear lots, which would mean losing existing customers since his customer base has been built to be serviced with the speed provided by GLBs. The seasons don’t leave landscapers much wiggle room in their landscaping work, so slower work means fewer customers: “We can’t say, well, we didn’t clean up your leaves this week when there’s a foot of snow coming,” Stratford said. So if he transitioned, “I’m going to have to drastically cut down the number of customers I have,” he said. With landscapers en masse requiring more time to service properties, he argues that tight supply will cause costs to rise for customers, on top of the increased labor costs and up-front equipment costs.

Fall cleanups are “a six to eight-week grind of just trying to keep up with leaves,” Stratford said. Making the already tough job harder may mean his employees leave to take other jobs; “they won’t want to do the work,” he said, echoing Modoono.

Koretz says the claim that transitioning to electric equipment is unfeasible is rooted in entrenched resistance to disruption of current practices. “There’s…almost always resistance to change when an industry needs to be regulated,” he said, also drawing a comparison with the auto industry. “At some point, if you’re going to stop doing this, you have to bite the bullet…and make the change.”

Should there be any exceptions?

The technology exists to do this work, but it is less powerful. In fact, it is so much less powerful that Article 10 includes one exception to the phase-out: on properties larger than one acre, a type of gas-powered leaf blower called a wheeled leaf blower with a four-stroke engine may remain in use.

This exception was added into Article 10 at the 11th hour. According to Koretz, it resulted from a misunderstanding between himself and Director of Public Works David Pinsonneault, who had verbally approved Article 10 for Town Meeting, but then told Koretz that the Town’s own landscapers would not be able to do their jobs maintaining Town properties if the phase-out included wheeled leaf blowers with four-stroke engines. It’s worth noting that beyond Article 10, the town has been working toward its own transition to electric landscaping equipment for a few years – and has collaborated with Quiet Communities to do so.

Modoono says this clarification and exception came about from him asking Pinsonneault if he realized the larger pieces of equipment were banned under the phase-out, which he evidently did not. Pinsonneault declined to comment for this article, citing his status as a Town employee limiting him from doing so under state law.

Landscapers see this part of Article 10 as a blatant exception for the Town’s Department of Public Works. Modoono said the overwhelming majority of lots over one acre, e.g. public parks, are serviced by the DPW. “Our whole stance is if your whole thing is for quiet, clean and safe, like, the town of Lexington should be leading the way on that,” he said.

Koretz emphasized that the point of the exemption is to allow anyone, commercial and town landscapers alike, to use this particular leaf blower on properties larger than 1 acre – a way to make the rest of the phaseout more manageable, grounded in the assumption that properties under 1 acre can realistically be maintained without GLBs.

Additionally, four-stroke engines are cleaner than two-stroke engines, he noted – though they’re also noisier. State Representative Michelle Ciccolo reiterated these points in expressing her own support for this specific exception. “Nonetheless, whenever possible and as soon as possible, we should be looking for ways to transition all of our equipment and motors to electric to improve everyone’s air quality,” she wrote in an email to LexObserver.

Koretz also says that Article 10 originally included language explicitly noting that Town and commercial landscapers were to be treated identically. This is something that Pinsonneault  asked for, he said. But, since the 1-acre exemption was added back in during the tumultuous back and forth of Town Meeting, a sentence was left out by “error” in the amendment frenzy – with the consequence that if you look at the entire motion’s language, beyond the one-acre exemption, it explicitly phases out GLBs for residents on their own property, and for commercial landscapers – but not for the DPW.

This de facto exception is especially frustrating, Modoono says, because Town landscapers don’t necessarily face the same economic pressures as private companies, even if they have different responsibilities such as preparing Town properties for Patriots Day. “If we don’t do our jobs at someone’s house, we don’t get paid,” he said – whereas the DPW, while under their own pressure, typically have more job security. 

What are the potential costs of the phaseout for consumers?

Citizens for Choice campaign proponents say that the increases in prices necessitated by going electric will impact Lexington customers.

Carrette has said that despite his all electric-fleet, his prices are comparable to landscapers operating with gas-powered equipment, and that he even raised his prices recently. (Koretz is a customer of Carrette’s.)

Koretz adds that even in cases where customers have to pay a higher premiums for electric landscaping using leaf blowers, other kinds of cost related to noise and pollution would make that premium worthwhile: He believes the costs of a no vote “are much, much bigger.”

Are there measures in place to financially support landscaping companies in this transition?

The phase-out is designed to take effect in 2025 to give landscapers time to use up their current equipment before replacing it with electric machinery, Koretz said. A California study does list three years as the approximate lifetime of a commercial GLB, though reported lifespans of this equipment vary.

There’s no measure currently in place in Lexington to help landscapers finance the purchase of electric equipment. Koretz says this is because it would be challenging at the town level to determine which landscapers qualify: Many landscapers work in several towns in addition to Lexington, so it might not be clear who is eligible for town-based funding, he said. “Is somebody who does two jobs a year here eligible…And should it be reserved for small firms? Or can the biggest firms get it? It’s not an easy thing to do,” he explained.

California offered $30 million in financial aid to help landscapers make the transition (which some landscapers there contend is not enough). In Massachusetts, Rep. Ciccolo has proposed a bill (H.868) of an unspecified amount which would establish a grant program for cities and towns, and allow private landscapers to secure loans with 0% interest to electrify their equipment.

The bill is in an early stage of legislative review right now, Ciccolo wrote in an email to LexObserver. It has been “reported out favorably by the Environmental Committee” but has a couple of steps left before it can be taken up by the House. If taken up, “we’d need a vote passing the bill in both chambers, a conference committee if the two votes differed on the language of the bill, a vote of enactment in both chambers and the Governor’s signature,” she wrote. So “there’s no easy way to predict if this bill could pass before 2026 but I’ve received positive feedback on this bill and its approach from colleagues and leadership.” 

Ciccolo has observed that the executive branch seems interested on the whole in supporting a transition to electric yard equipment – so they have incorporated incentives into the updated MassSAVE program, another avenue for support of these changes, she added.

“I certainly wouldn’t hang my hat on anything Ms. Ciccolo is trying to get passed by the state,” Keegan said. The landscapers maintain that even if this bill were to pass, since it’s a loan, they’d still have to pay up – and, their worker costs would remain the real financial problem. 

The three Lexington-based landscapers say that if the referendum does not overturn Article 10, they may decrease or cease the work they do in town.

Modoono said he has several accounts outside Lexington which he will “now try to increase.” About 75% of his current accounts are in Lexington, he estimated.

“If [the referendum] does fail [to overturn Town Meeting’s vote], I plan on sending letters to several cleanup-only type customers and telling them that because of this, we will stop servicing as early as this spring,” he said. To phase in the more inefficient electric equipment, he will have to begin shrinking his customer base right away, he explained.

“I don’t have a great plan” for handling the phaseout, Keegan said. The vast majority of the maintenance work he does takes place in Lexington, he said, but he expects he will try to establish himself “outside of Lexington” in addition to zeroing in on construction work beyond the landscaping piece of his business. This would entail cutting out 25-30% of his business, he said, to “try and make it up on the other end.” 

Stratford estimated that 90% of his maintenance takes place in Lexington – but “yes, I will start looking out of town” if the referendum does not overturn Article 10, he said. This saddens him as a lifelong Lexingtonian and Lexington-based business. “At this point in time, it just doesn’t economically make sense.” What’s more, “we’re going to have to work so much harder to do a job that is already difficult,” he said. 

“Lexington should monitor the situation on the ground closely and if the market tightens to the point where there are too few available landscapers, then it could possibly respond with policy changes to delay full implementation and also provide more support for the transition to prevent this from becoming a significant problem,” Ciccolo wrote. But like Koretz, she sees this transition as an inevitability “given that electrification is the trend for new equipment and the probability that more communities will likely move in this direction.” 

Koretz and Ciccolo both say the market will eventually correct any hypothetical exodus of landscapers from Lexington. “If one of the gas leaf companies or landscaping companies says they don’t want to work here, somebody else is going to eat their lunch. It’s a business opportunity,” Koretz said.

What Lexington is doing with this phase-out, Ciccolo noted, can have a state-level influence. “Local action and interest in policy change at the municipal level can spur action at the state level because the demand for change locally can inform shifting public opinion,” she wrote. So, she sees her state-level bill and Lexington’s local Town Meeting Article as “quite complementary,” rather than uncoordinated actions.

Still, Ciccolo thinks that at the local level, there are a couple of ways Lexington could explore further supporting landscapers. “Lexington could look for creative ways to help landscapers transition by offering training seminars and exploring the use of ARPA funds to create a local grant program for small businesses to support them financially in making the electronic equipment transfer,” she wrote.

How we got here

Last year, we reported on the process that led to this unusual referendum to overturn a Town Meeting decision. The short version: After a convoluted series of amendments at the Nov. 18 session of Special Town Meeting 2021 (which followed 11th-hour changes to the language the night before the session) members passed Article 10 by a resounding majority; the final motion passed with 84.9% of votes (135 yes, 24 no, 10 abstentions). Stratford then collected 1,130 certified resident signatures on a petition to hold a referendum to reconsider Town Meeting’s decision, exceeding the 3% of voters required to secure a referendum. The Select Board scheduled this referendum to coincide with the town’s annual election.

Despite the substantial majority in favor of Article 10 in Town Meeting, Stratford believes from observing the meeting that after a long and complicated night of debate, “people were honestly, I feel, tired, and…just wanted to get it over with.” That said, when given the opportunity to close debate and indefinitely postpone the article during the eventful session, Town Meeting members voted that option down.

“Currently, we don’t feel Town Meeting represents the town as a whole,” Stratford added, to explain why he set the referendum in motion. This way, “everyone is able to have a say in what affects them in their properties and the businesses within town that they use, and the businesses that they support in town.” 

Well before this fall’s debate, the Noise Advisory Committee and local landscapers “started off on the wrong foot,” Stratford said.

Discussions of GLBs and what to do about them have been happening in town for a few years – and November’s vote was not the first time an article proposing a GLB phaseout had come to Town Meeting. A phaseout had been proposed just six months earlier during the 2021 Spring Town Meeting. It was postponed at the time because landscapers had not been adequately consulted for input. 

Keegan described this process as emblematic of the “la la land of Lexington” removed from “the real world.” Keegan, who has been a Lexington resident for 63 years, said the GLB debacle has affected him deeply. “If my wife would let me go, my house would be on the market right now,” he said. “I’m disgusted by it all.” 

Koretz has repeatedly acknowledged that inadequately consulting landscapers before last year’s Annual Town Meeting was an error by the committee, and has personally apologized. The Noise Advisory Committee then made efforts to conduct outreach in a number of channels, including email, social media and one-on-one conversations, and compiled a list of almost 60 landscapers to contact.

The landscapers claim they had insufficient opportunity to comment on the fall meeting’s motion, too. They cite a May 5, 2021 Noise Advisory Committee meeting, where Koretz made the point that the committee would separate the considerations of the phase-out from the seasonal restrictions, to give landscapers more time to research what a phase-out would entail when they were not in the midst of a busy spring season. After discussing seasonal restrictions over multiple public meetings, landscapers were to submit comments about a phaseout after having the summer to do the necessary research – a less hectic time than spring for their work. But the landscapers say that while they received a reminder to submit input in August, it was a shock to see the phase-out prepared for Fall Town Meeting because of Koretz’ comment about waiting a Town Meeting cycle – and they felt blindsided, again. “We figured there was going to be discussion over the winter regarding the phase-out,” Stratford said.

The landscapers accurately capture the committee’s comments, but one additional piece of context is critical: Koretz had also emphasized that the NAC doesn’t have the authority to make a promise or final decision about something like this – it’s up to the Select Board and Town Meeting to “accept, modify or reject” NAC proposals. And a June 28 Select Board meeting appears to have been an important piece of the process that ultimately expedited reconsideration of the phaseout to the fall.

At that June 28 meeting, Koretz presented an update to the Board on the NAC’s work on a new motion – and said that they were not planning to include a phase-out in a motion for Fall Town Meeting. But when the Select Board gave Koretz their feedback, member Joe Pato said that while he was impressed with the NAC’s outreach work to landscapers, he now felt that the new motion didn’t necessarily do enough to mitigate residents’ concerns about noise; he wanted to see a path to a lower noise limit. This was not an explicit request to reinsert the phaseout – but the phase-out was a path to lower noise levels, because it would eliminate the equipment violating the noise limits in the first place. During public comment, a Town Meeting Member also explicitly asked the NAC to reinsert the phaseout into its motion. 

So Koretz took this feedback to the NAC, and they resolved to conduct research on the implications of a phaseout throughout the summer, while waiting for August feedback from the landscapers, as promised.

During these summer months, communications were sent to landscapers by the Town on behalf of the NAC as reminders to submit public comments about a phase-out. LexObserver was only able to directly review one of these communications to landscapers, an Aug. 25 email stating that “The Noise Advisory Committee has been discussing a possible transition from gas-powered to electric leaf blowers” and that they were accepting comments and suggestions about this until Aug. 31.

The NAC only received a handful of comments from landscapers during this period – just four or five, according to their Sept. 2 meeting minutes

The upshot: Landscapers began with legitimate concerns about communication and opportunity for input, and that frustration has shaped their campaign against this phase-out. “There’s been a lot of distrust,” Stratford said. “This affects our businesses, our livelihoods, our employees, our customers.” 

For their part, the Noise Advisory Committee has spent many, many hours attempting to walk a fine line between visceral, longstanding resident frustration with GLB noise, and staunch landscaper opposition to phasing out the machines central to their livelihoods. 

Koretz described debate as “heated” but “mostly civil,” with a few exceptions. Stratford said “our communications have been civil; the procedures have not been civil.” 

Who’s paying for these campaigns?

Both campaigns have raised over $10,000 in donations, with Quiet Clean Lexington raising slightly more than Citizens for Choice when taking in-kind contributions into account, and also spending a little more. Expenses and fundraising numbers for the two campaigns were relatively comparable overall.

Lexington Citizens for Choice is a campaign funded almost entirely by landscapers. According to their eight-day report, at least 20 of the roughly 25 donors to the Citizens for Choice campaign with itemized donations (those with a value over $50) work as landscapers. The majority of itemized donations had a value of exactly $500 each, and in total, the campaign raised $13,150 in the first two months of 2022. They spent $5,598.59 on advertisements, signs and letterhead in February, leaving the campaign with an ending balance of $7,551.41.

Less than half of listed landscapers live in Lexington, while the rest list addresses in nearby towns including Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Lynn, Burlington, Woburn and Lincoln. Asked whether voters should be concerned that landscapers who do not live in Lexington are contributing to finance the Citizens for Choice campaign, Modoono pointed out that many of the landscapers who work in Lexington cannot afford to live here due to the high price of housing. “I think the average cost of a piece of property in this town is a little bit higher than most small landscapers can afford to buy and to live in…they’ve got to live somewhere” Modoono said.

“This is a group of landscapers who service Lexington spend probably $2,000 a year to buy dump permits and dump their leaves,” he added.

Quiet Clean Lexington is chaired by Dayalu, and co-chaired by Koretz. Its statement of organization was submitted in December 2021, and they appear to have begun fundraising about a month earlier than the Citizens for Choice campaign. According to their year-end report, the campaign raised $4,249.03 from community members during this period. Itemized donations ranged from $100 to $300, with a couple outliers, including one over $1,000. During this period the campaign spent a little over $100, mostly on fees. 

In the first two months of 2022, they raised another $6,252, with itemized donations in a similar range and thousands of dollars in individual donations $50 and under. They spent slightly more than the Citizens for Choice campaign – $5,951.46 – mostly on printing and mailing. Additionally, Quiet Clean Lexington received some larger in-kind contributions, including $1,137.11 worth of lawn signs from Select Board member and Noise Advisory Committee liaison Mark Sandeen (who is also an avid local environmental activist) and $2,163 worth of mailing postage from another resident and local climate activist. The Quiet Clean campaign is left with an ending balance of $4,419.12.
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That’s a wrap for today. Was this article useful to you? What do you want to see in this email after the election? Let us know, and please ask your friends to sign up and donate too! Reach out to sophie@lexobserver.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our websiteTwitterInstagram and Facebook pages. Thanks so much for reading and remember to vote tomorrow!

With gratitude,
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi
LexObserver Team

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