Residents upset with Caltrans' plans to spray herbicides on roadsides March 3, 10

Residents want Caltrans to honor county's spray ban

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.

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8 people like this
Posted by Chicken Little
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Really.? All this panic about roadside vegetation control. I guarantee you the farmers in your watershed are applying 100x more chemicals than Caltrans is spraying in their 8' swath along 084. The plants they are controlling
Going toco trol are a hazard to cars and cyclists...and a huge fire danger for the flicked cigarette butt in the summer. Don't over react. Caltrans will spray ( it's their property) and everybody will be ok. Really. Please don't pay attention to one over reactive vegan.

12 people like this
Posted by Loca resident
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Feb 28, 2015 at 7:25 pm

In response to the comment by the "resident of West Atherton":

I live in this area (Skyline/La Honda), I am not a "vegan" and I know of many local residents like myself who are opposed and appalled at Caltrans' spraying of poisons in a natural, wildlife area such as this. You are very mistaken to think this article is in response to "one over reactive vegan". Please refrain from name-calling and pseudo-political insinuations. This is a matter of human and environmental health that affects us all.

Even if Caltrans were poisoning only "their property" -- which it isn't, this is public land -- there is no way to contain spraying within "a swath" : it will inevitably spread into the air, leach into the soil & surrounding plants, specially when it rains (as now!), be eaten by birds and animals and make it to the watersheds most of us drink from in these areas. The trout are in their spawning season right now, active in the local creeks: the runoff from Caltrans' own roadside pipes will channel the herbicides right into the creek water.

It is irresponsible for a state department such as Caltrans to have a deaf-and-blind attitude to the natural and to act in such an authoritarian vein in the face of long-standing opposition from local residents (not Atherton residents) who are the ones directly affected by their spraying and have the most interest in protecting this land (who is enjoyed by so many visitors too).

They justify using poisonous chemicals in the name of "safety", yet when compelled to do so in other counties Caltrans has used other perfectly safe means of removing weeds, such as mowing. Why resist doing this here?? Why continue to ignore the requests of concerned people who care for this land and for their own health?

9 people like this
Posted by Little Washing Bear
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Spraying chemicals is a poorly planned, short-term solution to a problem that can effectively be solved with any number of more environmentally friendly methods. The abundant use of toxic chemicals in agriculture is also a public health issue, but because we don't SEE it happening it's easier to disconnect from. When unknown chemicals are being sprayed on people's property where their children and pets play on the ground, it poses a serious health risk to humans and animals. If you are not familiar with the book, "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson (published in the 1960s) covers the topic of using toxic chemicals on our environment and how it eventually affects humans since we have perched ourselves at the top of the food chain (think higher cancer rates). If weeds are obstructing the view of a road sign, would it not be cheaper to selectively weed (you know, with a shovel and gloves) and trim back the affected areas? There are already enough man-made carcinogens that we get exposed to without giving consent, and adding more poison to the mix in order to get rid of weeds that will just grow back is ridiculous. Pull the weeds manually in the most problematic areas for a while, then plant something native that doesn't grow high enough to obstruct the signs. Problem solved.

6 people like this
Posted by chicken little
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 1, 2015 at 9:27 am

and here we go again, rachel carsons silent spring. published in the late 50,s? cmon, the chemical referred to in that script was DDT. still used in the entire world exept the usa. and saves thousands of lives each year. before the knee jerk reactions, ask yourself these questions;

what are the spraying?
what is the ld50?
How long before it breaks down into harmless ingredients?

Then balance that against this questionm;

do i want my taxes to go up so we can afford the guy with the shovel or the guy on the mower mutiple times per year?

make an informed decision instead of banning these things you call "poisons" from the county. Poison is an insiteful word, of course which is why you use and and the skull and crossbones.

5 people like this
Posted by Rhea S.
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

We live in an amazingly scenic area where the well-being of the residents and wildlife needs to be protected from unnecessary pesticide spraying. Caltrans has respected the wishes of other counties and it is time for them to respect our wishes in San Mateo County as well! They need to end broadcast spraying of weeds with pesticides!

9 people like this
Posted by Big Bird
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2015 at 9:36 pm

So does the little chicken work for Caltrans? don't be a chicken, just say so. Just kidding !
It IS obvious that YOU do NOT have the facts, know the history of this issue, or the science of these chemicals. Unlike you, I have lived in the unincorporated area of our county near Hwy. 84 since 1985, have worked in public works, KNOW how useless spaying these herbicides can be here (Catrans is wasting money), and I have worked with people trying to eradicate invasive plants for 40 years on their properties and the roadways. WE are doing the work on many of these roads, clearing with volunteers, wood chippers, and NO chemicals. Caltrans is pretty grateful to us, so maybe you need to learn about that before you are accusing us about all that we don't know.
MOWING has to be done ANYWAY by Caltrans. When you spray the (mostly non-native, invasive) weeds which grow to be about 3-4 feet high since Caltrans often waits too long to MOW, then all you have are 3-4 feet high DEAD weeds which remain there, a fire hazard, until they MOW.
By the way, check the facts, little chicken: Caltrans' records of what actually causes roadside fires are NOT cigarettes (biggest myth out there ) but CARS: an accident or car fire. Quit with calling others uninformed, cuz you sure got an uninformed, bias of your own, obviously.
Check your facts: the local fire district chief once told me that it is NOT Caltrans' responsibility to clear the roads for fire danger--only for visibility, safety, and road maintenance--and MOWING is most effective for ALL purposes !
You did ask one good question: "What are they spraying ?" And we do NOT know since they are not stating it in their own email notification to a few residents. Now, can you maybe admit that we might have the right to know this in order to be "better informed" as you insist we need to be? Do people have the right to at least not be in the area when they are spraying ? No one can know when they will spray since they do not POST signs on the roads warning us before, during or after. Perhaps you should check some facts on what happens to some people with severe asthma when they are exposed to herbicides (we have documented cases with children reacting when the county used to spray on the roads).
In the past, Caltrans' list has included Glyphosate, Milestone VM, and guess what ? the skull and crossbones are on the manufacturers' containers because these ARE poisonous : so get YOUR facts right.
Many of these herbicides (like glyphosate/ RoundUp) are intended for SPOT spraying which IS useful and appropriate, NOT broadcast spraying which will do NOTHING for the invasive scotch broom which IS encroaching the roadway because they have NOT mowed. And I have the facts on the best way to control that invasive problem thanks to the people who have done so on their own properties for 40 years : cut it down to the bare branches above the roots; paint on (spot applying) glyphosate which IS the only way to kill the roots on this woody plant; once it's dead, pull it from the ground, and then you must replant the area with noninvasive, native plants, or it will come back. Native plant experts have documented how glyphosate will actually PROMOTE more growth of some of the worst invasive plants overcrowding our roadways. There is too much info to list here on how native plants on roadways require LESS mowing (why some counties promote this) check into that, chicken brain.
And get your facts right on this : the county nor Caltrans do NOT mow "multiple times a year" nor do they need to--once in May or June can do it. Look into how Marin Co. ( and 7 others in northern Ca., Caltrans District 1 ) does road maintenance with NO broadcast spraying : mowing only once in most areas, twice in others IF needed.
And aren't you lucky, living in Atherton that your water comes from Hetch Hetchy...we are taking care of our own water WELLS here, and my shallow well happens to be near the road. Did you know that--or know anything on that subject ? Easy for you to tell us not to care.
I'm betting plenty of other people DO care, ARE informed, and want to at least have the choice to not RISK their water sources with this unnecessary potential source of pollution.
So, please tell me, when you so obviously do NOT know the facts of this issue: why are YOU telling US what to care about in our own community ? I'm grateful to the community volunteers who have studied, worked for, and cared about our local environment and public health issues. Caltrans needs to end this useless practice, just as they have ended it in District 1, and in many other counties in Calif. and just MOW which they do anyway.

2 people like this
Posted by rural mom
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 2, 2015 at 9:01 am

It is currently raining in our area. Per the instructions, herbicides like RoundUp should not be sprayed near water, We’ll see if Caltrans still sprays. It will not be great news for those of us using well water.

Even at exposures in the parts per trillion, studies show the carcinogenic effects glyphosate, such as this one on breast cancer:
Web Link

Let’s hope Caltrans will one day respect the ban on broadcast spraying of herbicides imposed by the San Mateo Board of Supervisors.

7 people like this
Posted by Little Washing Bear
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2015 at 9:21 am

In response to "Chicken Little of Atherton": Environmental justice is a social justice issue. Being privileged living in Atherton and arguing that the affected people are "overreacting" is like an ignorant white person trying to argue that they don't benefit from white privilege because they aren't a racist. You. Just. Don't. Get. It. Like the white person will never truly understand the differing life experiences a person of color goes through, you probably won't understand what it's like to have chemicals dumped on your property without your consent. Not having to understand the issue is the privilege from which you benefit. (Note: this is not meant to be a racial discussion, I am simply using the analogy to show how you can't understand a social injustice that you haven't been burdened with).

Unless you have been affected by these chemicals, are at risk of being affected, or know those who are being affected, you will probably never fully understand why people are upset. When it comes to ANY chemical that requires testing to find out what the LD50 is, we should employ the precautionary principle and not use humans as test subjects. Yes the doses may be small and may break down in the environment over time, but given all of the other chemicals (BPA, for example) we are exposed to in our food, water, plastics, etc., it's probably better to be safe than sorry when the synergistic effects of these chemicals on humans have not been adequately studied.

I recommend checking out this organizations website for more information the effects of different chemicals used in pesticides. Web Link

Check yo facts Chicken!

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