Janet Davis was aghast when she saw a tanker truck and a man spraying what she thought was an herbicide next to San Francisquito Creek near Alpine Road and Junipero Serra Boulevard in Menlo Park on Tuesday, March 17.
Ms. Davis, a resident of the Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood, fired off an email to the Menlo Park City Council, county supervisor Don Horsley and, for good measure, Portola Valley environmentalist Lennie Roberts.
Her email said the herbicide would be washed into the water. "Even the county has stopped doing this," she wrote. "This is idiotic. One man (or at least one WOMAN) with a hoe could do the job in half an hour."
At first, Menlo Park officials responded that the sprayers were not a Menlo Park crew, and that they had checked with Palo Alto, Stanford and San Mateo County as well but had not found anyone who would admit to spraying in the area that day. The email mentioned that tanker trucks had recently sprayed liquid fertilizer and water nearby.
That might have been the end of the story, except Ms. Davis found a neighbor who had been walking her dog in the area on the 17th who had spoken to the sprayer. "All I know is the guy said he was hired by Menlo Park," the neighbor told Ms. Davis. "He said it was Roundup," an herbicide, that was being sprayed, the neighbor said.
The new revelation set Menlo Park Director of Public Works Jesse Quirion back on the trail. By Thursday morning he sent out this reply:
"I apologize for the previous inaccurate information," he said. "I was notified yesterday afternoon that the spraying that occurred was performed by the landscape company Gachina who is contracted by the city of Menlo Park."
Mr. Quirion said the mix-up has led to a new city policy. "Due to the lack of information about who was spraying, I am from this point forward restricting the use by city staff and city contractors of any and all pesticides within a 100' range of waterways, creeks and/or canals and requiring all city contractors to notify city staff in writing at least 24 hours in advance of any uses of pesticides," he said.
Herbicides, which kill plants, are considered pesticides, as are substances that kill insects.
"I agree that the use of pesticides directly adjacent to the canal is unacceptable and I am grateful for the residents bringing this to our attention so that we are able to address it and prevent it from occurring again," Mr. Quirion said.
Mr. Quirion said Menlo Park in June restricted the use of Roundup within 100 feet of schools, daycare facilities, picnic areas and playgrounds. "We began a test section for the use and effectiveness of different types of weed abatement treatments" and the city will consider the results in modifying its existing Integrated Pest Management policy, he said.
Menlo Park's Integrated Pest Management policy dates from 1998 and is being updated, Mr. Quirion said, so to better align with San Mateo County's Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program policy. The draft of Menlo Park's pest management plan should come before the council by May, he said.
Ms. Davis said she feels the city needs to do even more. Even an herbicide sprayed 100 feet from a waterway "still flows down to the creek and is lethal to aquatic life" she said. "The spraying that I saw was right adjacent to the creek where there is a ditch that flows directly into San Francisquito."
"There also needs to be public notification several days ahead of ANY intention to spray ANY area," she wrote to the city.
The issue of herbicide spraying has been in the news lately because San Mateo County residents who live off Skyline Boulevard (Hwy. 35) and Woodside/La Honda Road (Hwy. 84) are upset that Caltrans continues to broadcast spray herbicides near their homes.