Residents rally for change in City pesticide/herbicide sprays: Ocean Beach Town Council hears plea for organic landscaping policy
Summer is here, bringing with it the scent of barbecues, sunscreen, freshly cut grass and … pesticides?
Passionate supporters for a Non Toxic San Diego (NTSD) — including local Anne Jackson who spearheaded the Campaign for Non Toxic San Diego at change.org — made an appearance at Ocean Beach Town Council’s meeting May 22 at the Masonic Center to raise awareness about the pesticides and herbicides being sprayed around the Peninsula and to issue a call for action.
The Campaign had 392 signatures as of June 12.
Jackson explained that NTSD is a group of volunteers primarily from, but not limited to, the Peninsula. Their goal is to have the City adapt an Integrated Pest Management Policy similar to the one developed by Non Toxic Irvine, which founded Non Toxic Neighborhoods, a program that helps cities transition to organic landscaping policies.
Jackson said her journey with NTSD began Feb. 7, when she and a friend were walking their dogs at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, and a vehicle arrived with workers who began spraying something on the plants. The women asked the workers to wait until they passed before spraying the chemicals, but the workers refused. According to Jackson’s research, Ranger Pro was the herbicide being used.
The following day, Jackson said, she went to the OB Dog Beach to avoid the chemicals at Sunset Cliffs. There, she ran into a friend who informed her that Roundup dab sticks were being used in the vicinity.
Jackson said the Roundup label states: “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in any manner inconsistent with its labeling … Do not apply this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.”
Yet, she said, “We were allowed to walk our dogs through the area (being applied with Roundup).”
To give the Town Council an idea of just how extensive the City’s use of pesticides are, Jackson shared this section from Robb Field Recreational Park Pesticide Report notes: “Please spray Roundup at the following locations: Around softball fences, all eight infields, under/around bleachers, next to the residential areas, both sides of sidewalk/bike path along Sunset Cliffs and in the OB Gateway on the corner of West Point Loma and Sunset Cliffs. Please include the jetty around the skate park, horseshoe pit, playground area, volleyball courts, around the basketball and handball courts, around all building and tennis court fences, the dirt lot next to the parking lot and near the dumpsters.”
“So where are they not spraying?” one community member asked.
Jackson further testified that although she saw a sign warning of pesticide spraying at Spanish Landing, there was only one sign in the entire park.
On April 9 at Shelter Island, she said, she spotted a “No Parking” sign in the grass. As she walked by the sign, she saw a warning that the City would be spraying pesticides on April 10 and 11 taped to the sign’s back. However, she said her joy at discovering the City had decided to post warnings was short-lived: “While returning to my car, I saw a man spraying pesticides, even though it was a day early.”
City reviewing situation
Frustrated by possible public health endangerment, Jackson said she began fervently e-mailing City Council staff, San Diego County reps, Mayor Faulconer and Port of San Diego authorities — but hasn’t heard anything back yet.
Via e-mail to Point Loma-OB Monthly magazine, Jackson said on March 20, four team members from Non Toxic Neighborhoods met with Seamus Kennedy and Jordon Beane (staff for Council member Jennifer Campbell) and provided them with documentation on what NTN believes may be illegal spraying at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and OB Dog Beach.
Beane told Point Loma-OB Monthly the reason for the delay in response is that the City Council is working with the Parks & Rec Department on the problem, and Council members don’t want to prematurely make official statements until they’ve “closed the circle internally.”
“It’s not that we’re not responding,” said Beane, “we just don’t have anything to respond with yet. As soon as we have more information, we’d be happy to share it.” Beane emphasized that the use of toxic pesticides are an issue Campbell and staff are concerned about.
On change.org, the petition campaign states: “We ask the City of San Diego to require the contractor(s) at city parks to abide by the law as provided by the federal government and not permit the public in areas when they are being sprayed with glyphosate or any herbicide product until a Non Toxic San Diego Integrative Pest Management (IPM) is in place. We ask the City of San Diego to require that contractors at City parks provide an ‘Intent of Use’ sign to be posted three days prior to spraying pesticides to provide the community the choice of avoiding the area, or not, until a Non Toxic San Diego IPM is in place.”
Residents Tom and Teresa Craig also shared their experiences with the City’s pesticides spraying. While walking his dogs at Sunset Cliffs, south of Ladera Street, Tom said he was in the vicinity of pesticide use and hadn’t seen any warnings posted. Afterward, he experienced coughing, lung irritation and burning, which prompted him to look into the side effects of being exposed to pesticides or herbicides. He said he discovered trace amounts of glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — can be found in food, beers and wine.
“What kind of world are we leaving our children and life on Earth, when one can’t eat, drink or walk in a natural park without being exposed to carcinogenic poisons?” Tom inquired. “Let’s join the other 23 cities in California that have banned or limited the use of herbicides in their parks.”
Teresa, a retired school teacher, said she reviewed the approved pesticide list from San Diego Unified School District for 2018-2019 and found that many of the ingredients in the approved pesticides require a substantial amount of cautionary policies. One pesticide label even stated that the lawn should not be cut for 90 days after being sprayed because of how toxic it would be. Teresa expressed concern about the use of these chemicals in areas where children spend up to eight hours a day. (The full list of approved pesticides is available at bit.ly/SDUSDpesticides)
What about the butterflies?
Gina Feletar, a volunteer with Xerces Society, a science-based nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats, approached the pesticides concern from a different angle.
Feletar explained that the use of toxic pesticides is having a drastic effect on the Monarch Butterfly population. As part of Xerces Society’s annual count, which takes place in November, the 2018 count of monarch butterflies was “devastatingly low,” she said, “the lowest it ever has been.” Since the 1980s, the Western Monarch population has declined by 99.4 percent.
Feletar added that people often get the Monarchs confused with a similar-looking butterfly, so she receives many calls from people saying, “There are so many Monarchs!” when really, what they’re seeing is the Painted Lady Butterfly.
People want a beautiful butterfly garden, but maintain the habit of using herbicides and pesticides in the same vicinity. “Don’t even bother (starting a butterfly garden) if you’re still spraying,” Feletar said.
The OB Town Council agreed with the cause and is drafting a letter of support to send to City Hall.