2017-03-16 / Community

Oak Park council sides with weekend gardeners

Panel says leaf blowers OK for now
By Sylvie Belmond

The Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council decided it will not ban commercial gardening on Saturdays and Sundays in residential neighborhoods.

The issue arose after several residents expressed concerns about the noise and disruption that professional gardeners cause when they begin work as early as 7 a.m. on some weekends.

At a meeting Feb. 28, about a dozen residents provided feedback in person and via email, with the majority saying a prohibition on weekend commercial gardening would be unfair and difficult to enforce.

The focus then shifted to gas-powered leaf blowers, which gardeners use to clear fallen leaves and other debris and from common areas and on private property.

Oak Park resident Ruty Levy urged officials to outlaw leaf blowers, stating that the damage the machines do outweighs their time-saving benefit.

The two-cylinder motors pollute the air, create excessive noise and produce winds of up to 180 miles per hour that can strip off topsoil, hurt plants and their roots, and kill vital soil-dwelling organisms, Levy said.

The clouds of dirt and dust the machines create pose a threat to the health of residents and gardeners alike, she said.

Across the country, cities are banning leaf blowers to reduce noise and improve air quality. But landscape professionals say that without those devices the cost of cleanup labor would increase significantly.

In 2013, the Calabasas City Council considered a ban or limit on the use of leaf blowers within that city, but the proposal could not gain traction due to cost issues and a lack of alternatives for the blowers.

After the discussion, council members said they may revisit the leaf-blower issue later to consider guidelines that were established in Westlake Village to reduce noise, dust, toxic fumes and lake pollution caused by the machines.

Among other things, residents and professional gardeners in Westlake Village are asked to only use leaf blowers on weekdays and at the lowest speed possible. Blowers must have mufflers to curb air and noise pollution, and they can’t be used to blow debris toward the lake or onto public streets or neighboring properties.

Law and order

The Oak Park MAC also learned at its meeting last month that residential burglaries and thefts from cars have been minimal in recent months.

The community’s biggest crime occurred in February when anti-Semitic notes were posted on the doors and mailboxes of eight homes in the 5900 block of Conifer Street. Police are working to identify four culprits who were caught on video camera at the scene.

“We have had some leads and interviewed some people, but we have not made any arrests,” Ventura County sheriff’s Capt. Ross Bonfiglio said, adding that the culprits are likely juveniles who were being stupid. “They’re not going to prison or jail, so I hope that if anyone knows about it, they would call the sheriff’s office,” he said.

On the topic of public safety, Oak Park officials tentatively agreed to allocate $25,000 for a volunteer program that would boost police presence in local neighborhoods.

One Ventura County sheriff’s car is assigned to patrol the unincorporated area, which is home to about 14,000 residents. The funding provided by the MAC would allow the Volunteers in Policing program operated by the sheriff’s department and City of Thousand Oaks to start patrols in Oak Park.

The idea is not new, said Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, adding that in 2005 officials agreed volunteers should also patrol Oak Park but the plan never materialized.

Volunteers can help regulate traffic around schools and manage parking enforcement. They also do vacation checks to make sure people’s homes are secure when they’re out of town, and take reports for vehicle and residential burglaries, identity thefts, vandalism and fraud.

“The main purpose of the volunteers is to keep the sworn deputies on the street doing more important things,” said Mike Green, a former MAC member who serves on the volunteer force.

“As long as there is no suspect information we can go to the house and take the report from people. The other major thing that we do is just being seen,” Green said.

Police volunteers wear full uniforms and drive marked police cars.

To join the program, participants must attend a 12-week citizen academy followed by a six-week classroom training where they learn report-writing, radio communications, fingerprinting and traffic control. Newcomers then go on patrol with a mentor for about three months to earn their certification.

VCSO is set to host a citizens’ academy starting in April.

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