How to get my town to ban leaf burning?
November 19, 2013 2:39 PM   Subscribe

A year and a half ago I moved to a small town in Illinois that allows leaf burning. It is obnoxious. A local group has tried for years to ban the practice (via petitions, complaining at city council meetings, etc.), but have not been successful against the entrenched supporters of the leaf burning (several of whom serve on the city council.) I'm looking for some creative suggestions for getting the leaf burning snuffed out.
posted by JeffL to Human Relations (15 answers total)
Can you offer a more appealing alternative, rather than an outright ban? Such as, in my town people rake their leaves into the street, then the city collects them, composts them and sells the compost.
posted by florencetnoa at 2:52 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Out here in the SF Bay Area, the Air District does a hell of a lot of good work with "Spare The Air", including designating days by weather conditions for which wood burning is illegal. They do great things.

Do you have a local air quality control board that you can partner with? Searching on "Illinois air quality" brings up Partners for Clean Air, which might give you some good allies in going after this sort of pollution...
posted by straw at 2:53 PM on November 19, 2013

Can you offer a more appealing alternative, rather than an outright ban? Such as, in my town people rake their leaves into the street, then the city collects them, composts them and sells the compost.

My understanding is that those ideas have been proposed, and rejected by the city council.

The price of yard waste pickup has apparently declined a lot in the last few years (compared to what it used to be, I'm told) and is ridiculously cheap. It seems to me that the reason the burning continues is because a small, entrenched minority resist any change. Also: This is a college town, and there's some "town and gown" conflict that plays a role as well.
posted by JeffL at 3:01 PM on November 19, 2013

it's possible that you might be able to get relief from this issue at the county board level depending on the size of the city.

also you might want to examine the legal route. a class action lawsuit from people in the town who have breathing issues would probably cause things to move a little faster in the town council.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 3:14 PM on November 19, 2013

Run for city council and/or campaign against the entrenched supporters of policies you dislike.
posted by ook at 3:24 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

First I should ask, is your problem that you personally don't like the smell/smoke of leaf burning, or that you have a serious medical condition?

The reason I ask, is that if the city council has already turned down all attempts to ban leaf burning, even with an alternative leaf disposal method already in place, you're probably fighting a losing battle. However, if your disdain is due to a medical condition that is something more than "makes me feel not quite right," than you may be able to go the legal route and file a law suit (note: IAMAL).
posted by Shouraku at 3:29 PM on November 19, 2013

suing would be a tough road: probably expensive, questionable odds, and likely to alienate people.
posted by jpe at 4:16 PM on November 19, 2013

The answer to questions like this is always this.

That article uses an example campaign ("Complete Streets"), but that's really irrelevant. Just substitute "Banning Leaf Burning" into the article whenever you see "Complete Streets" and there you have your answer.

Now it sounds like your leaf burning issue is very entrenched in the community, with different factions taking different sides, and so on. So it may literally take years of coalition building, talking to community groups, and the like to turn this around (an example of how that was done here--again substitute your issue for the one named but follow the same exact coalition-building procedures and you're golden).

You're talking about a much harder issue here than just going and talking to the city council for 10 minutes or doing some kind of clever stunt and problem solved instantly.
posted by flug at 7:17 PM on November 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think florencetnoa has a good idea with the composting. Approach it in a positive way. If you approach it the way you are thinking now, even though some other citizens feel the same way, the pro leaf burning people are going to hear: "I just got here and omg, you and your town are so obnoxious and I'm here to show you how things should be done". Tread softly, don't try to make them bad and wrong.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:14 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could have people with asthma file an (administrative) ADA complaint with the Department of Justice.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:55 PM on November 19, 2013

I think you should look at starting a business doing the collecting and composting and selling of said leaf mould. I know that sounds glib, but I'm actually not kidding.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:11 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I occasionally fight city hall and win. I would not pick up this fight unless it were for serious medical reasons.

Do you own or rent? Operate a business in town?

There are thousands of ways this could blow back on you, and few benefits to escalating this issue.

Feel free to escalate, anyway! I love a noble cause!!
posted by jbenben at 11:07 PM on November 19, 2013

Emperor SnooKlooze has an AWESOME idea!

Especially if you marry it with the idea to create a Community Composting Station!!

Wow. Those two ideas put together are so much better than my naysaying.

As a community activist, I am TOTALLY putting that type of clever work-around into my Activist Toolbox.

What a great question and thread.

Cheers, OP!
posted by jbenben at 11:08 PM on November 19, 2013

I'm frustrated that questions like this have become inextricably -- for now -- caught up in a sort of two-parallel-cultures problem here in the US. Thus, leaf burning is to one culture a noxious and even obnoxious, and unneighborly, activity; yet to the other it is an inalienable expression of their basic human rights. And a lot of studies are showing that these ideas become even more entrenched the longer someone believes them.

As such, politically persuading change would be a long, hard road, and even politically imposing change difficult. I think your best bet is education from a clean air and health standpoint (historically, leaf-burning has been banned primarily from a fire-prevention standpoint, which is why rural areas tend to still allow it). I would try to get an expert in town to hold an education forum. I would try to form a group, or ally with an existing group, to promote the benefits of clean air.

And yes, I might just try to outmaneuver by creating a business (even a non-profit break-even business) that diverted more and more of the leaf-burning to other outcomes over time.

Where I am, outside of budget issues, something tends to be socially ostracized from coming before the council more often than every few years ("We just decided that in 2003"). Still, i would work on at least getting it on the agenda anticipating that cycle so that maybe you'll have more support next time.

In the end, though, I think this is one of those issues you just have to be pragmatic about. You moved to them; they didn't bring their leaf-burning practices to you. I have a very stodgy city with, for example, a pathological hatred of roundabouts. The city engineer, and the state highway people, however, love them and are building more. It's my hope that over time the claque is gradually silenced into acceptance. About all you can do, sometimes.
posted by dhartung at 1:43 AM on November 20, 2013

I like the idea of setting up a leaf collection and composting business. I think the extra twist on that idea might be to let it run for two or three years and then claim the city council's regulations are needlessly and negatively impacting your small business! That will make your opponent's heads spin!
posted by Slothrop at 10:45 AM on November 20, 2013

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