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You are here: Home Section Table Shout it Out Former Mayor Ed Morgan Recommends a Transition Period Before the Village Ends Leaf Pick-Up
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Former Mayor Ed Morgan Recommends a Transition Period Before the Village Ends Leaf Pick-Up

LeafBags(This was submitted by Ed Morgan) At its annual membership meeting on May 20, the Scarsdale Forum members (in addition to the usual annual business) considered and acted upon two reports previously publicly released under the Forum’s Expeditious Treatment procedure, prior to the Forum membership’s discussion and vote on them. One was on the Village budget and the other on the Village’s fall leaf vacuuming service and on remaining use of gas leaf blowers. Both reports recommended immediate discontinuance of the Village’s fall leaf vacuuming service, and neither provided any discussion of possible needs for some transition period in doing so.

During the meeting discussion, I expressed concern about the omission of transitional needs. While I praised the spirit of the budget report and the excellent science reflected in the leaf vacuuming/gas leaf blower report, I said that I consider such transitional relief to be essential, indeed a moral imperative, to avoid potentially costly mistakes involving significant and hitherto undisclosed direct costs for many Scarsdale homeowners. I therefore abstained from the membership vote on both reports. The two reports were after discussion approved by the Forum membership, effectively leaving transitional needs consideration to another time.

Transition provisions (at least six months prior to effectiveness of vacuuming discontinuance is what I’m recommending) are not as much needed for those who have already figured everything out and acted on their own, or who are at least fully informed, as are incorrectly assumed to be everyone in the two Forum reports. Rather, transitional provisions are primarily for the benefit of the many Scarsdale residents currently unaware of the implications of the discontinuance proposal and unprepared to deal with it.

The potentially costly mistakes involve at least three choices which residents will have to face should there be Village Board action for immediate discontinuance of the Village’s leaf vacuuming service. I cannot detail them here but have provided details and suggestions toward possible mitigating actions in the memo below to the Village Board which I am informed the Village Board is considering. Included there is an introduction to how good mulching practices are beneficial in this area, but inadequate leaf mulching practices can be and have been disastrous. We’re not here talking about small amounts such as the $57 property tax savings for the average Scarsdale resident estimated in the Forum’s budget report should fall leaf vacuuming be discontinued without transitional provisions. On a worst case basis, the direct short-term cost to the average Scarsdale homeowner could come close to 100 times that $57 figure. That simply should not be permitted to happen, and it can generally be avoided with a reasonable transition period.

Individual circumstances in the Village will vary. Because of their own expertise and preparation, or simply because of luck, some will have no problems with the transition should the vacuuming discontinuance proposal be enacted in Scarsdale, but many, many Scarsdale residents will not be so fortunate. (By the way, I’m in the lucky category just mentioned, so I’m not seeking anything here for myself, but rather fairness for all Scarsdale residents.) Some have suggested that homeowners’ gardeners will adequately address the problem, but at least for many of Scarsdale’s smaller gardener operations, that is not the case. The reasons (also detailed in the Village Board submission) include historical practices with which they’re comfortable and bad experiences trying new procedures with which they most likely were not then sufficiently familiar.

Also key here to successful results here will be a massive communications effort, prior to effectiveness of any change in Village fall leaf vacuuming, by the Village and others to ensure that every (and I mean every) Scarsdale residence is made aware of the potential problems presented, as well as the possible compliance and mitigating options and their direct short term costs for residents.

Edward A. Morgan
8 Tunstall Road

April 27, 2021

MEMORANDUM FOR MAYOR AND TRUSTEES, VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE

Re: Transition Arrangements for Proposed New Gas Leaf Blower and Leaf Vacuuming Limitations in Scarsdale .

Today I am writing you on the subject of transition arrangements in connection with the subject proposals, and particularly in relation to recent proposals to discontinue Village curbside leaf vacuuming services in the fall, with bagging pick-up to remain an option. From what I’ve seen, it seems that some are content to refer to the major change involved as a “transition,” despite the lack of any discussion of what an orderly transition would look like. I would see that as unfortunate, more than that actually, and hope that the Village can do better. I will in this piece try to lay it out more clearly than thus far seems to have been done.

My basic recommendation is to treat an orderly transition as also vital to successful implementation of any new regulations, and specifically that with respect to any discontinuance of fall Village leaf vacuuming services and requiring bagging of any leaves to be picked up by the Village, there be a transition period of at least six months before any such changes become effective.

A. Orderly Transitions Generally and Background;
Different Focus for Transition than for
Devoloping Best Long-Range Approach .

From what I have seen or heard so far, Village leaf vacuuming discontinuance and other major proposals have been made during this year’s Village budget process. Beyond that, several Trustees have been reported as willing to consider very major new local law legislation, extending well beyond the major changes already approved by the Village Board last month. You and I both work in various ways with several Village NGOs interested in these matters. At least one group has recommended the discontinuance of curbside leaf vacuuming this fall as among other things an opportunity to reduce Village real property taxes. By the time you receive this memorandum, you should already have received a 46-page report (with excellent science information when viewed in the long term) and recommending discontinuance “effective immediately” of curbside leaf vacuuming.

This is not about the long-term objectives, with which I agree. In that connection, it is fine to cite a variety of techie inputs as well as those from evidently well-endowed regional gardeners who have spent years thinking about these matters, have made adjustments themselves and say that they are happy with them, competitively and otherwise. But all of that helps us little in examining how to effect an orderly transition with minimum actions unintendedly contrary to the long-range objectives and with the least opportunity for costly mistakes by ordinary residents along the way.

As you know, I have had some personal experience in Village government work with what is involved both in significant changes and in their orderly transitioning. That started when I chaired the Village Board committee which helped in leading the community and the gardeners serving the community through the 1994 local law which adopted the then trailblazing summer ban on use of gas leaf blowers. After your March 2021 local law, also major in its changes, the rules for this year allowed spring clean-up with gas leaf blowers (through April) and thereafter continued the summer ban, albeit starting earlier. The effect, in my view, is an orderly transition on that point.

Personally, my belief in these things is that, absent something immediately massive in its impacts such as a major tsunami or pandemic (curbside leaf vacuuming being neither), governments should always seek orderly transition arrangements whenever government is mandating changes in specific actions by residents, especially when (as here) there exist potentials for mistakes in implementation of Village leaf vacuuming discontinuous costly to the residents, which can be mitigated or even totally reversed by a more orderly transition process. Orderly transitions really are vital.

The appropriate focus of an orderly transition is therefore not upon the long range view seen by the techie experts or by others who have been fortunate enough over several years already to have figured out adjustments which work for them. Instead, an orderly transition should focus on those who are least aware and least prepared to cope with the contemplated changes in their own actions.

Since the 1994 Village local law, I have continued interested in this area of activity, and in recent months in particularly have done quite a bit of observing and of interviewing of folks involved or with useful insights. In one of those recent discussions, I suggested that perhaps as many of two thirds of Village residents, busy with their day-to-day needs and not focusing closely on intricacies of topics being discussed by interested NGOs and the Village government itself, were then totally unaware of what may be about to descend upon them “effective immediately” with zero provision for an orderly transition. I was immediately told that my two thirds figure was too low. Let’s not quibble: it’s clearly substantial.

B. Gardeners: Matching Their Perceptions with Our Needs

Some advocates in this area have claimed that, even if it’s true that thousands of Scarsdale homeowners are presently unsuspecting of what may descend upon them, that doesn’t matter. Their gardeners must know, they say, since even small family gardeners work in other communities which have already gone further with restrictions than Scarsdale either in 1994 or in March this year, so there will be no problem. Not actually so.

What I have seen from extended observation and also from recent interviews is that with one exception, while somewhat alarmed by what they perceive as disruptive attitudes in Scarsdale and Larchmont in particular, many gardeners are still comfortable today continuing much as they have for decades. These past practices include using poor equipment in modern terms and limited or no mulching, a combination which the much vaunted experts assert (rather fairly, I think, if viewed in the long term) is environmentally bad for the community, their customers and even themselves. The exception is leaf vacuuming, where some but not all gardeners have substituted their own leaf vacuuming and removal services for services previously provided by municipalities. They would never, I’d daresay, put it that way, but it seems that so far, with that one adjustment, they’ve effectively been able to disregard all other restrictions nominally in place elsewhere. That of course will change, but it hasn’t fully happened yet.

Scarsdale has long had its own thoughtful, albeit generally and eventually firm, approach to community issues. I hope that we continue that, including here. This is not either about abandoning the longer term objectives for extended periods or about criticizing the gardeners who serve us, especially the often less wealthy, smaller family-type professional gardeners. Instead, we should be encouraging them with at least some period for orderly transition. Specifically we should use the transition period to gain their attention effectively to the new needs and demonstrate to them how a transition for them can be managed without greater financial or other distress.

The first step in achieving that is better understanding and respect for what they now are seeing.

On blowers, the experts point to improved power and battery life (without so far as I’ve seen sufficiently addressing either battery life or potential fire hazards from the lithium batteries now used in the better electric blowers). Of course there are very real problems with gas leaf blowers in the comparable areas, which the experts have forcefully pointed out. That’s not the point. When gardeners were recently pointed toward a highly touted, new and more powerful electric blower, it took them less than a minute to come up with a current gas leaf blower which is 20 percent more powerful. Yes, the experts tell us that that’s bad, but we start from where people actually are. The gardeners report their own problems with electric blowers, including limited power and limited battery life. The real answer, many of us (including me) believe, is through increased mulching. Mulching can greatly reduce the need for the use of any blower, let along the very environmentally bad gas leaf blower, but the gardeners are not there yet, and have a long way to go.

On mulching, the experts point to the reduction in need for any blowers and the nutritional and other benefits of leaving mulched grass clippings and leaves in place on lawns and plants. The gardeners tell a different story which they’ve actually seen. When used (not often really), they say that mulching works fine with grass clippings, but the story is different for mulching of the six- to eight-feet high piles of leaves they say they see regularly in the fall every year. There, instead of being the small and very thin wafer-like mulch obtained from grass clippings, they report larger clumps of mulched material. Gardeners are also very concerned about actual costs, which despite disclaimers by experts, must go somewhere (and, I should add, quite possibly can where a sufficient transition period is provided). That cost concern is especially so here, since one common piece of equipment they use has a documented cost between $20,000 and $30,000, not something they can just absorb if forced to make a change hastily. (Sometimes, often actually, such equipment can be backfitted to do mulching rather than ordinary cutting, but for older models, they worry that backfitting may no longer be possible.) They continue to add that if has been insisted that the mulched material be left on the lawns, the result has sometimes been to kill the entire lawn, a very unpleasant and very costly result. The gardeners are not lying; these things can and do happen.

On leaf vacuuming, they get it (as intended) that if municipal leaf vacuuming is discontinued, no one in their right mind would try to manage things by the laborious task of forcing six- and eight-foot high fall leaf piles into bags for municipal pick-up for two and a half months or so each fall. The bags are considered totally uneconomic for large-scale use, and are suitable only for occasional, small-scale use. For some of them, the response as already mentioned is to provide their own leaf vacuuming and removal service, and then in the subtle billing processes involved, quietly adjust their overall billings over time to cover the necessary costs without sudden price changes to their existing customers. Note that this response ducks the desired objective of increasing mulching, with which they’ve often been uncomfortable because of the sometimes disastrous results.

C. For Unsuspecting Homeowners, Rushed Options, Some Costly

Let’s now turn back to the unsuspecting Scarsdale resident. Also keep in mind here, that a considerable number of Scarsdale residents choose themselves to do at least simple gardening and lawn maintenance tasks, using no gardeners. What would happen, with or without gardeners, if the unsuspecting resident is forced, with no transition, to act on extremely short notice because the Village’s leaf vacuuming were to be eliminated “effectively immediately” with no legislative provisions made for an orderly transition process?

Absent provisions for a meaningful and orderly transition process, we’re talking about something which is not simple for the uninformed (most of the Village’s residents, as has been pointed out), and mistakes are likely. If the hitherto entirely uninformed resident can instantly identify them, by no means a certainty, there appear to be three principal options, with a fourth for very large properties. While some residents may be lucky, accidentally or otherwise (and I’m accidentally one of the lucky ones, for whom a transition should avoid the perils to follow), many will not be lucky that way.

What follows are examples of these options, with figures which have been massaged some during recent discussions. While the figures doubtless could still be refined further, I am comfortable that the basic cost range indicated is realistic and may provide an unwelcome shock to many Scarsdale residents unless disclosed and then reasonably addressed. The figures by the way, are to be compared to the supposed Village property tax reduction because of immediately discontinuing Village fall leaf vacuuming and thereafter doing just bagged leaf removal. Based upon reported figures, it appears that for the average Scarsdale homeowner, the property tax saving this year could not exceed roughly $60.

First, the resident could try to continue as before, actually laboriously stuffing the massive piles of fall leaves into bags for Village pick-up. The actual added annual direct cost to the homeowner of undertaking that task is roughly estimated at somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000.

Second, the resident could try hastily to implement more mulching, leaving the mulch on the lawn or around plants. I’ve been advocating increased emphasis on mulching for almost 30 years now, but I’m not personally a gardening expert. More recently I have observed and talked with gardeners, and I’ve talked with many other people. As I trust our gardeners will learn if they haven’t already, it’s almost always possible to learn something more. What I’ve learned in the recent months of observations and interviews is that I didn’t, years ago, have it quite right. The gardeners are telling the truth: if, for example, you just run your mulching mower over the lawn once when massive quantities of leaves are there, and you then just leave the mulch there, you very well can kill the entire lawn. The unsuspecting Scarsdale resident trying that could easily incur costs in the $4,000 to $5,000 for replanting the entire lawn and nurturing it until fully established.

Third, the resident, if not already employing a gardener, could try to employ one, particularly for the purpose of getting one who offers private leaf vacuuming and leaf removal from the property. There would be a cost for this service, and it appears that such cost for the season likely would be between $600 and $1,000, a bargain comparatively with the other two options. Note, however, that this option (alone) assumes operations mostly as before, therefore not necessarily either increasing mulching or reducing general blower use as desired in the longer term goals.

Fourth, but only for the very largest of Village properties, the property may have large wooded areas. For those properties, the homeowner, instead of having lawn leaves blown out to curbside for pick-up, can have them blown into the wooded area and just left there. That at least puts off the problem.

Returning to the three options available for the average Scarsdale homeowner, the heretofore uninformed Village resident can experience direct costs dwarfing the current year real property tax savings recently urged by some. Starting with the roughly $60 real property saving urged by some and comparing it with the possibilities of new direct costs under the three options ranging from ten times to more than 70 times those real property tax savings is depressing to say the least. Requiring implementation of an “effective immediately” change with no provision for an orderly transition, with no public disclosure and no full discussion and consideration of practical alternatives for the homeowner would be unconscionable.

Other available information, however, indicates that this would a classic “haste makes waste” situation. With and only with a reasonable provision for an orderly transition, it should be possible to greatly mitigate if not entirely eliminate the kinds of possible direct costs for Scarsdale property owners which have been described. At the absolute minimum, I would put the necessary pre-effectiveness period for successfully implementing an orderly transition to the new restrictions proposed at six months.

D. Short Period Movement Toward Desired Longer Term Policy Goal

Even such a short period (which I do recommend) will involve some trade-offs, at least temporarily, in order for the currently unsuspecting Scarsdale homeowner to escape potentially significant direct costs as above summarized. Some residents, accidentally or otherwise, will be lucky; for others more strenuous efforts will be needed to mitigate or eliminate added direct costs. During that transition period, assuming a massive communications effort, the Village can get the word to every Scarsdale homeowner presently unaware of the possible problems for them caused by the very major changes recently proposed.

If that massive communications effort succeeds, the currently unaware homeowner will be made aware of the comparative cost, etc. pros and cons, at least short term, of the various options available. It turns out that mulching is more complex than I thought years ago, so the property owner (if not in the lucky group) may very well at least start by hiring a gardener to do leaf vacuuming and leaf removal from the property. This is not the ideal solution -- mulching eventually should be -- but as a hasty decision, it is a reasonable start.

E. The Problem of Just Mulching versus Enhanced Mulching

So what about increasing mulching as widely recommended for many years? While others more expert than I will have to flesh this out details, what I have learned recently is that just running a mulching mower once over a lawn covered with massive amounts of leaves typical each fall in Scarsdale is not enough. That can cause and has sometimes caused the costly disaster of destroying entire lawns. Instead, what I would call enhanced mulching, not just mulching, is what is needed to get the happy kinds of results prognosticated in various recent reports from experts.

Possibly one can already do internet research and find a full discussion of the relevant details, but here I’ll here just outline a few likely features of enhanced mulching: (i) before the leaf season starts, consider modifying mower blade heights, so that the grass will be tall enough for mulched particles to slide down, leaving green grass still above and still able to get sunlight and grow; (ii) when the leaves begin to fall, change the mulching mower pattern if that has not already been done, so that on a cross-hatched basis there are multiple passes through any given area, thereby considerably reducing the size of the mulching clumps commonly left from the first pass through; and (iii) well after the normal seasonal end of past gardening activity, return to gardening activity in late December or early January to add fertilizer to the mulched areas.

On the last item, while environmental proponents have stressed the reduction of fertilizing needs because of the soil nutrient benefits of retaining mulch on lawns and around plants, that’s bit misleading. In fact, the kind of change proposed will result in some reallocation of costs, with some costs going down, others going up. Experts do expect, probably reasonably, that the reallocation may eventually result in net savings over earlier, more environmentally damaging methods. The winter fertilizer in the last item above is an example of an increase, and while it could help to strengthen lawn root systems, the purpose is to expedite natural transformation for the retained mulch into new soil, offsetting some of the soil loss from erosion and other factors. This combination (as further detailed elsewhere) should prevent leaf mulching destroying entire lawns.

F. Summary Conclusions and Orderly Transition Recommendation

In conclusion, then, a reasonable pre-effective period to facilitate an orderly transition of major changes such as the discontinuance of Village leaf vacuuming service the shift to exclusive Village pick-up of bagged rather than loose leaves is very important. Such a transition period of at least six months is recommended.

This should permit several thousand currently unaware and unprepared residents to make at least short-term decisions which are compliant and reasonable without surprise direct costs. It should also increase the likelihood that instead of the short-term measures not particularly consistent with longer term environmental policy objectives, property owners and gardeners will actually be encouraged to move expeditiously toward more extensive mulching, with its added advantage of reducing all blower use needs.

G. A Few Related Items

(1) Importance of Effective Village Communications in an Orderly Transition to New Rules. Effective communications as previously mentioned are an essential component of any orderly transition, especially if the period before effectiveness is as little as six months. I understand that the Village is working on this, applaud those efforts and urge them to be stepped up immediately.

If the Village has any idea of making discontinuance of curbside leaf vacuuming effective for the fall of 2021, there literally is not a minute to waste, for all of the reasons set out above. Six months from today, the early parts of the fall leaf season will already have commenced. If actual notice prior to the effectiveness of such a major change of at least six months cannot be provided, then my recommendation would be to defer the effective date until at least the six months notice (and full accompanying information) can be provided, reaching everyone universally in the Village. For potentially thousands of Scarsdale homeowners currently unaware of the scope of the problems and possible direct costs involved, such a wise course of action should reduce or eliminate the costly mistakes possible if effectiveness were to be rushed.

There has been a fair amount of discussion about notice. Some have said that everyone already knows about Village efforts to encourage mulching. As fully explained above, that simply is not true. I think I can reasonably say that I am not the least informed resident of Scarsdale on community issues such as this one. I have been told during these discussions that I must already be aware of relevant Village informational efforts on mulching because of Village blasts and other events and communications. Not so. I’m signed up for Village blasts and I’ve checked. During the past ten months, I’ve received Village blasts on 23 different subjects, none of them emphasizing mulching. That’s understandable so far. I did receive one announcing the March 2021 gas leaf blower changes (basically a list of dates).

The relevant point, though, is that obviously many of the unsuspecting Scarsdale homeowners are not signed up for anything. For the reasons amply explained above, this simply must reach everyone, and not just with a list of dates. If the Village is uncomfortable talking about possible costly mistakes by homeowners, it should at least disclose that cost considerations are involved, some costly if mistakes are made during the transition, and that homeowners should look into the matter further, considering all of the permissible options.

The same applies to Village efforts extending beyond mere notices. When, during the discussions leading to the recent report, the in person and hands on efforts of Larchmont were mentioned (see text at note 109 on page 32 of the 46 page report), it was pointed out that Scarsdale has already been doing similar things, which is good and is recommended. However, the key point is the same -- many unsuspecting Scarsdalians are totally aware of them, and that should be corrected going forward.

It's really important here that useful information actually get to every, and I mean every, household in Scarsdale, as well as to the gardening community. It is recommended that the Village use all available resources (staff, Advisory Council on Communications, etc.) to quickly come up with a plan certain to reach every household with not only notices but also information on in person and hands on aspects. I understand that some sort of robust plan is in the works. Please keep it up.

(2) Possible Additional Role for New Village Field Enforcement Officer. Finally, the plan by the Village, mentioned recently during budget discussions, to add at least temporarily an additional staff position for an enforcement officer to hasten compliance with new gas leaf blower restrictions, suggests a possible additional opportunity which should be considered. While the enforcement officer cannot be everywhere at once, the existence of such a person active regularly in the field should be helpful in the transitioning involving gas leaf blowers.

However, since such officer will be out and around, on site where gardening activities are going on, it is suggested that such on site staff presence might also simultaneously be able to do something else helpful. Village gardener personnel are frequently seen working around the Village without using any safety equipment whatsoever. The resulting noise and particulate health dangers to these workers using current gardening practices has already been brought to the Village Board’s attention. Since the enforcement officer would already be where the action is, without any need for phone calls, etc., it is recommended the Village also look into the feasibility of having that same enforcement officer given a role with respect to OSHA, etc. safety compliance by the gardening workers serving us in Scarsdale.

Thank you for your consideration,
Edward A. Morgan
8 Tunstall Road

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