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."