More groups ask Caltrans to stop spraying herbicides in San Mateo County

Caltrans offers two-year pilot program on Hwy. 84

Responding to requests from a wide array of local groups, farmers and ranchers, and public officials who have asked Caltrans to stop broadcast spraying herbicides along San Mateo County highways, Caltrans officials have promised to make some changes, starting with a pilot program on Highway 84 between Portola Road in Woodside and the coast.

According to a community notice about the pilot program, Caltrans will continue broadcast spraying herbicides on the westbound side of Hwy. 84 while using mechanical mowing and other manual weed control, including mulching, on the eastbound side.

While the map shows herbicide spraying for a little less than 14 miles from Portola Road in Woodside to El Corte Madera Road past La Honda, Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said Caltrans will not spray within the town limits of Woodside nor at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 84. The flier also shows two stretches of the road, near the community of La Honda and near the water reservoir at the intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Hwy. 84 as "no spray" zones.

Ms. Navarro said Caltrans will also continue to honor residents' "No Spray" signs. She said Caltrans will not spray with 25 feet of driveways in areas where complaints have been received, or within 25 feet of groups of mailboxes or of creeks and waterways.

The flier says the pilot program was developed working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). "Caltrans must maintain fire breaks. Overgrown vegetation, combustible vegetation, and lack of fire breaks can contribute to increased fire danger," the flier about the program says.

Public meeting scheduled

Caltrans has scheduled a public workshop about the pilot program for Thursday, Nov. 5, 7 to 9 p.m. at La Honda Elementary School, 450 Sears Ranch Rd, in La Honda. Officials will be present to answer questions and the public will be allowed to make written comments.

"We are working to partner with the community and we are aware of the community's environmental concerns," the Caltrans flier said.

Some members of the local community were less than enthusiastic after hearing about the pilot, however. "They don't need a pilot project to know how to do this," said Patty Mayall, who lives off Highway 84 near La Honda in unincorporated San Mateo County, and has been trying to stop herbicide spraying for years. "A lot of people are pretty angry that Caltrans is spraying in November, which will be the third time they've sprayed this year," she said. Residents are also angry that Caltrans does not put up warnings when it sprays.

"It is outrageous that Caltrans refuses to post on-road notifications warning all users on the road and residents," Ms. Mayall said.

Citing environmental and health concerns, San Mateo County in 2012 stopped broadcast spraying herbicides on county-maintained roads. At the time, Caltrans said it might do the same, but it has not done so.

Many groups contact Caltrans

After Caltrans sprayed alongside Skyline Boulevard and Highway 84 earlier this year, protests began pouring in. The list of those who have recently asked Caltrans to stop broadcast spraying of herbicides along San Mateo County roadways includes the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the Peninsula Open Space Trust, the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, the Committee for Green Foothills, the South Skyline Association, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and 17 farms and ranches, including Pie Ranch, TomKat Ranch/LeftCoast GrassFed, Markegard Family Grass-Fed and Jacobs Farm, and the Vida Verde Nature Education program. An online petition asking for a stop to the spraying has close to 350 signatures.

Lennie Roberts, who is a Ladera resident and legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills, said the Sept. 14 meeting at which the pilot program was announced was organized by state Senator Jerry Hill and included: from Caltrans District 4, director Bijan Sartipi, deputy director Nader Eshghipour, and public information branch chief Bob Haus; San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, staff members representing state assembly members Kevin Mullen and Rich Gordon; Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition board member Peter Ingram and Ms. Roberts, as well as Senator Hill.

Ms. Roberts said Director Sartipi introduced the pilot program at the meeting and told the group it will last at least two years. He told them Caltrans is responding to the requests to stop spraying, and has started mapping resources and sensitive habitats along San Mateo County highways.

Letters urge stop to spraying

Among the letters sent to Caltrans was one from Shiloh Ballard, president and executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, dated Aug. 28. "Many of our 2,800 members enjoy bicycling along State Routes 1, 35, 84 and 92 where there is often limited space between the travel way/bike route and the edge of the road," the letter says. "Current spraying practices can create plant material that a bicyclist must veer into the roadway to avoid, creating a potentially dangerous situation," it says.

A letter signed by 17 San Mateo County farmers and ranchers is dated Aug. 24. "We strongly support mowing, brushing, and other non-toxic methods to maintain the roadsides," the letter says. "Many of us are certified organic farmers. Our livelihood depends upon maintaining our organic certification. We have concerns about potential injury by these chemicals to our livestock, crops, and apiaries, either from spray drift or leaching through soil," it says.

The letter also expresses concern with water being polluted with herbicides. "Our farms and ranches also depend upon creek and stream water for livestock and crop irrigation," it says. "These chemical can persist in soils and be carried from roadside ditches into creeks where they can impact all downstream water users, including native wildlife," it says.

Another letter is from Shawn and Laura Sears, co-founders of the Vida Verde Nature Education program in San Gregorio. "Vida Verde brings inner city kids from throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to the San Mateo coastside," the letter says. "We want to ensure that our 10-year-old visitors have the healthiest possible environment, including eliminating any exposure to pesticides.

A letter from the Committee for Green Foothills signed by Ms. Roberts says that "San Mateo County's natural habitats are home to over 40 endangered or threatened species or species of special concern. We all need to do everything possible to ensure these species survive and that human health is not compromised," the letter says.

The letter urges Caltrans to stop spraying herbicides in the county. "The people and critters of San Mateo County," it says, "will be eternally grateful."

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22 people like this
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 23, 2015 at 10:36 am

STOP this life-killing practice and move to MOWING once and for all! -- No one is arguing about Caltrans's responsibility to maintain roads for fire protection -- but if it is done in a way that poisons people, animals, water and nature then it is no longer "protection" or an acceptable solution, it is like "curing" cancer with a bullet

Like this comment
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 3:16 pm

I'd like to know if there's a petition for Menlo Park? Or where to start one?

11 people like this
Posted by Skyline Mom
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 23, 2015 at 4:33 pm

After all the requests that Caltrans manage the vegetation without toxic herbicides, it is difficult to understand why they continue to broadcast spray these poisons. Spraying for pre-emergent weeds with herbicides that remain toxic for months in the soil (and YEARS in water) is unacceptable. On the county level, the board of supervisors has banned this practice, yet Caltrans continues.

I don't want these chemicals in my well water. I don't want them poisoning wildlife. I don't want them creating the next generation of super weeds.

There is a petition, if you haven't signed already:

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Oct 23, 2015 at 8:07 pm

Enough, Beth, Skyline Mom, lets get real.

Chemicals are not inherently bad. In fact, pesticides [herbicides insecticides fungicides] have insured millions of people have had enough to eat and not died horrible deaths for the past 100 years.

That stuff they are spraying along the shoulders of the roads literally, wont kill a fly. You react as if you are nude sunbathing an the truck pulls up and drenches you in the stuff. You want to be able to eat the berries from the side of the road. I wouldnt, I would pick them from the 10's of thousands of other acres in the county that are not along the edge of the road.

Now Caltrans has said if you put up your silly "dont spray" sign they wont spray in front of your property. Great. But thats not good enough for you because you want to impose your morality on ALL of the residents of SM County, because you are smarter than the rest of us. Knock it off! I want the area sprayed in front of my house sprayed because of fire. Do you realize that when you mow, you create a chance that very mower will strike up a fire [its happened to me because steel blades vs rocks equals sparks]. But I guess thats ok with you because you rent anyway.

I hope caltrans gives in and quits spraying the shoulders out there. And when the fire starts [remember last month] you will probably blame them for mis management. All this while you drive over the hill daily.

Crazy crazy world or maybe im nuts? But im sure you'll state your credentials and all the schooling you've had about this 20 years ago and discredit my opinion as being less valuable than yours. Cheers

4 people like this
Posted by Chemical soup
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2015 at 9:12 pm

Much of what's sprayed and dumped in the environment does not go away and combines with other chemicals to form an unhealthy soup in the air, in the water and on the surface. It reminds me of a moive about The Simpsons - Homer not OJ.

12 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Oct 24, 2015 at 11:06 am

Reality check, Thank you for your post. It is important to have all side represented in a good discussion. And I’m sure that you are not truly wishing for Skyline Mom’s house to burn down just to prove that chemicals are the only option. Neighbors are far too respectful and caring up here for that.

I do hope that this local issue is not large enough to attract Dow Chemical and Monsanto funded trolls, however.

Caltrans did manage the vegetation with non-toxic methods for a period of time. They managed it well and they did not start any fires. Currently CDF has been doing an excellent job of clearing lots of brush along the roads.

Since Caltrans is spraying for pre-emergent weeds at this point, they will probably be spraying Milestone VM (from their list of herbicides they have sprayed on the Skyline area in the past.)

I don't have a degree in chemistry, but I am capable of reading an MSDS, so that is what I did.

Milestone VM
Milestone’s active ingredient is aminopyralid. This was found to persist in soil with a half-life of up to 550 days (well over a year.) It was found in compost and stunted many crops and was then banned in the UK and in some states in the US (but not California.) The half-life in water 990 is days (almost 3 years.) That is plenty of time for it to percolate into the aquifer and affect many of us drinking well water as well as wild life. If I can’t safely water my garden with it, I don’t want to drink it.

Also from the product’s own MSDS:
"There are no requested uses for aminopyralid that are considered residential and neither handler nor post-application residential exposures from uses around homes are expected to occur."

We may not have a heavily populated area, but it is residential to the people who live here.

The chemical's label requires restricted entry for 12 hours. If anyone is to re-enter before that time, they are to wear coveralls and waterproof chemical-resistant gloves. I have never seen anything posted to warn hikers or bicyclists of this danger. One could stop to change a tire and be heavily exposed to this.

I must admit that I do want to live in that Utopian world of my childhood, where one could eat a wild blackberry and not ingest poison.

Other chemicals that Caltrans has published that they have sprayed up here: Roundup—a probable carcinogen, banned in many countries, implicated in high birth defects in agricultural workers and in non-Hodkins lymphoma, found in urine and water samples at high concentrations.
Accord, Payload, Matrix SG, EsplAnade 200SC

2 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Oct 24, 2015 at 8:26 pm

The Netherlands. The Netherlands have banned roundup. There's a bread basket for you.

Look, the pre emergent de jour for Caltrans is Surflan (aka Simazine). The way pre emergents work is you spray them on soil and they get washed into the soil during the first rains. Here's the magic. Following the rain the travel into the soil where the lock onto bio material like SEEDS. When the seed germinates, the material transfers onto the weak and vulnerable mono or dicoyolyfon and kill it. It takes good timing to make this work. Sometimes Caltrans will even follow their spray truck with a water tanker if a rain prediction is far off.

So it is preferable this stuff last a while in the soil. It's where it does its job.

But yes, it is wise not to do s lot of hanging out on the shoulder of a highway like your momma probably told you. its not safe for a lot of reasons. But one car leaking a quart ethelyne glycol does far more damage than miles of this stuff being sprayed along our shoulders does. Not to mention gasoline, diesel and motor oil.

Still believe this is over reaction to something that is so easily called poison when it's such a small blip to so much other pollutants we care to ignore. It's because it is so easy to get emotional which takes the place of reason on this subject. I.e. If you are for this type of weed control you are for harming my babies.

And of course, I would not like to see a fire, just trying to make a point.

10 people like this
Posted by Pam
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 25, 2015 at 12:29 pm

We don't need a "pilot" program. We already know from several other communities that manual weed control works very well without polluting the environment.

10 people like this
Posted by Nellie Ree
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Oct 25, 2015 at 3:03 pm

What ever happened to just pulling weeds like back in the 50's? Are we too spoiled for that? Along my road we pull the bigger weeds, and let the deer eat the smaller ones. I leave milkweed until it dries to keep habitat for monarch butterflies, then cut it and compost it. We don't need to pollute our creeks, lands, children, pets, and any wildlife anymore. I've seen hive collapse in beekeeping areas due to over use of Roundup. Please!

7 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Oct 25, 2015 at 5:19 pm

Hi again Reality Check,

Thank you for the information on Caltrans’ current herbicide usage. Surflan was not in the information they provided last year. A quick search did not show me any references to Caltrans’ use of Surflan, do you mind posting your source?

Also, thank you for letting us know that Caltrans follows their broadcast spray trucks with a water tanker. In the past they have actually delayed their spraying (even for pre-emergent weeds) due to rain in the forecast. Could you also let me know what your reference is for this? It would be incredibly helpful.

Surflan actually sounds just as bad or worse than Milestone. According to the labeling:

• toxic to fish
• 24-hour ban for reentry
• dispose of any clothing that comes in contact with Surflan, do not clean or reuse
• do not graze or feed forage from treated areas to livestock
• do not use Surflan A.S. on soils containing more than 5% organic matter

And an NIH paper describes it as a xenoestrogen.

Web Link

We agree on one thing—I am emotional. Having this stuff sprayed by my house and staying active in my soil and water scares the heck out of me.

Since you are from around here (right?), you must know that if there is daylight, there are people on the shoulders of 84 and 35. It is a major recreational area for bikers and hikers.

Yes, there are other dangers in the world. But the issue here is herbicides and the fact that there is an excellent and proven alternative. Why risk it?

4 people like this
Posted by Rhea S.
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 25, 2015 at 9:22 pm

I urge Caltrans to use the healthier alternative of mowing for all of Highway 84 instead of a select section. That is not good enough. We need to protect our precious environment and all the people,and critters that inhabit the affected areas.

2 people like this
Posted by Suzanne Greenberg
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Herbicides are not necessary and are dangerous to the health of the community. The is particularly the case since other non-toxic remedies are available and proven to be effective

3 people like this
Posted by La Hondan
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I live on acreage in these mountains. I manage weeds and brush by mowing and removing by hand (and introducing desirable species to take of the space that weeds would otherwise occupy. It's pretty simple and I'm managing fire danger and not introducing toxins into the watershed.


CalTrans can do the same. That's their job.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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