The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has announced that it will spray herbicides along Highway 84 west of Skyline Boulevard twice in early March, and residents of the area are not happy about it.
Residents of Skyline Boulevard say they are also unhappy to find out that Caltrans sprayed their roadsides in January without giving the notice it had promised.
In 2012, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors banned broadcast spraying of herbicides everywhere in the county except at its two airports. But the county has no authority over Caltrans. Although Caltrans has stopped spraying herbicides in other counties when asked to do so, the agency continues to spray herbicides alongside its highways in San Mateo County.
"We really want to see this end," said Patty Mayall, who lives near La Honda and who led the fight to have the county stop herbicide spraying.
"They're not giving anybody any choice of their public exposure to a toxic chemical," Ms. Mayall said. "They're a public agency, our taxes support them. They should be paying attention to public health about this. About our watershed."
In a press release, Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said Caltrans plans to spray herbicides on two Tuesdays, March 3 and March 10, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The spraying will be between Skyline Boulevard and Stage Road, about one mile east of Highway 1, on the westbound side of 84 (also known as La Honda Road).
"During a routine inspection, Caltrans deemed spraying is necessary for safety measures, such as clearing weeds around signs and guardrails, sight distance, establishing fire strips and (to kill) invasive plants and species that maintenance is not able to control by any other means," Ms. Navarro said.
She said Scotch broom has "encroached the travel way, which creates a safety hazard for motorists." Ms. Navarro promised crews will not spray in driveways, creeks or near groups of mailboxes, or within 50 feet of any creeks or rivers.
Ms. Navarro also said Caltrans will not spray in La Honda or San Gregorio, or on properties that have posted "No Spray" signs.
Local residents said that Caltrans recently sprayed herbicides along Skyline Boulevard (also known as Highway 35) without any notice. After San Mateo County banned broadcast herbicide spraying in 2012, Ms. Navarro promised that the agency would not spray unless it had to, and would not do so without prior notice.
Margaret MacNiven, who lives off Highway 35 in the Portola Heights neighborhood, noticed and photographed the dying vegetation and Caltrans confirmed that it had sprayed herbicides along Skyline around Jan. 15.
"It's disappointing since San Mateo County has adopted a policy of mowing the side of the road, a wonderful environmentally sensitive policy," Ms. MacNiven said. "I thought the spray in January was applied indiscriminately and at a time and in places where it did more harm than good," she said. Ms. MacNiven said that invasive plants "flourish when the ground is disturbed."
"Over the years," Ms. MacNiven said, "Skyline, a scenic corridor, has become a mess when it comes to invasives taking over the side of the highway." The invasive plants, including Star thistle, Italian thistle and Scotch broom, are flourishing, she said "which is sad for a native plant lover like myself."
Amy Shimmick, who lives off Skyline above Portola Valley, said she was surprised by the herbicide spraying. "I attended the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting where I thought a resolution was passed to stop broadcast spraying of herbicides," she wrote in an email to Caltrans. "Can you please tell me why this is happening despite the residents' continued protests and the board of supervisors' ban?"
"I live up here to raise clean, organic meat and produce for my family and to drink untainted water," she said. "Caltrans is making this impossible for me."
Ms. Mayall said she would like Caltrans to post notices of the spraying on the roads in several locations, preferably in the form of its large flashing signs, so residents and cyclists will know to avoid the area and to keep pets inside.
She would also like Caltrans to let residents know what chemicals are being sprayed. In the past, Caltrans has sprayed with chemicals that the manufacturers suggest people should avoid for at least three days following application, Ms. Mayall said.
Ms. Mayall said she has asked San Mateo county supervisors to intervene with Caltrans. The Almanac has attempted to contact Supervisor Don Horsley, whose district includes the areas being sprayed, but he has not responded.