Good news, bad news from Caltrans on herbicide spraying


Caltrans has given San Mateo County residents some good news and some bad news about the state's plans for spraying herbicides alongside local state highways.

Part of the good news is that after years of requests from local residents, Caltrans officials say they will post message boards along the highway warning when they are about to spray herbicides.

The bad news on that subject: The signs may not actually mention herbicides or spraying until the spraying is over.

Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said Caltrans will post at least two changeable message boards on Highway 84 (Woodside/La Honda/San Gregorio Road) and will probably also post signs on Highway 35 (Skyline Boulevard) near its intersection with Highway 84.

"The message will probably say something like "Weed Abatement/Moving Closure/Possible Delays" with the date, she said.

The message boards will go up three days before the spraying and stay until one day after the work has been completed, Ms. Navarro said. After the spraying is completed the message board will say the herbicide spraying has been completed.

More bad news from Caltrans is that despite recent reassurances that it would not do so, the agency plans to spray herbicides within the town limits of Woodside.

"Caltrans does not have a maintenance agreement with the town of Woodside, therefore it is Caltrans' responsibility to maintain State Route 84" in the town, Ms. Navarro said. "There will be spot spraying in the town of Woodside in 2016."

Paul Nagengast, Woodside's deputy town manager and town engineer, said he had "always believed (Caltrans') herbicide program started at Skyline Boulevard and went west." Mr. Nagengast said he is not sure if spraying within Woodside town limits by Caltrans is new or if the town has "just never been advised before."

Woodside "does not use herbicides to control weeds," Mr. Nagengast said. "Town staff trims, mows and cuts as part of our vegetation management program adjacent to roadways."

Residents attending a public workshop on Nov. 5 also learned that despite years of public assurances that Caltrans does not spray where residents post "No Spray" signs, the agency does not actually honor the signs.

As recently as Oct. 23, in an email to the Almanac, Ms. Navarro said Caltrans would not spray within 25 feet of private property "if a no spray sign is posted." At the Nov. 5 meeting, however, residents learned Caltrans will spray on its right-of-way, despite no spray signs, unless residents have signed an agreement stating that they will eliminate any weeds in front of their own property.

"The consent form is tailored per property owner, meaning it would need to be created as it is requested," Ms. Navarro said.

In addition, unless the property owner has an encroachment permit from Caltrans, taking on all liability for maintenance issues, the consent form must be signed each time Caltrans sprays, Ms. Navarro now says.

Responding to recent requests from a wide array of local groups, farmers and ranchers, and public officials to stop broadcast spraying herbicides along San Mateo County highways, Caltrans said in September that it will start a pilot program on Highway 84 between Portola Road in Woodside and the coast in which broadcast spraying of herbicides will occur only on the westbound side of Highway 84 while mechanical mowing and other manual weed control, including mulching, will be used on the eastbound side.

A map on a flier about the program shows herbicide spraying for a little less than 14 miles from Portola Road in Woodside to El Corte Madera Road past La Honda, with a few areas as "no spray" zones.

More bad news may be the chemicals Caltrans plans to spray. Many of the residents who live near the area to be sprayed use local creeks and ditches for irrigation or drinking water and have wells near creeks. A list of chemicals to be applied on Highway 84 includes Esplanade 200-SC, made by Bayer. The Esplanade 200-SC label says it is "toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and plants. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present."

The label also advises that the chemical "may leach into ground water in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow."

"This product is classified as having a high potential for reaching surface water via runoff for several months or more after application," the label says.

Others who live near the areas to be sprayed are organic farmers, whose crops could be ruined if the chemicals drift onto their property. Much of the area is near the coast, where there are frequent winds. The label says: "Drift potential increases if wind is in excess of 10 mph, gusty, or below 2 mph (due to inversion potential)."

Another chemical on the list is Milestone. It warns not to use "inside banks or bottoms of irrigation ditches, either dry or containing water, or other channels that carry water that may be used for irrigation or domestic purposes."

Other chemicals on the Caltrans list for use along Highway 84 include Accord XRT II, Activator 90 and Matrix SG.

For more information about the Caltrans pilot program or a no-spray agreement, contact Gidget Navarro at or (510) 286-5574.

See an earlier story here.

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12 people like this
Posted by Keefer
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Argh, why does weed control have to entail pesticides? Can't we just mow or trim or pull, and stop with the poisons? So many health and environmental issues are involved, and if this many residents don't want poisons applied, why haven't we chosen another way? I've walked my road and pulled or trimmed weeds, put a sign out asking them NOT to spray, but the spraying continues. Time to evolve and find a safer way! Please!

9 people like this
Posted by Amy S
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:18 pm

I am encouraged that one side of 84 will be spared the broadcast spraying of these herbicides, and that Caltrans held a meeting with the public in a sign they have heard our voices.

However, the rest of the news is incredibly disappointing! We would seriously have to enter into a signed agreement with Caltrans EACH time they spray to avoid our property being doused? That is three times a year, and so far it has been without the benefit of forewarning. Chemicals for pre-emergent weeds continue to kill for months and sometimes 3+ years according to the EPA fact sheets. I don't want them in my water, I don't want them on my property and it sounds like I basically have no choice. Perhaps now that the Town of Woodside may be affected we'll have some more people protesting these policies.

8 people like this
Posted by Corielle
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 16, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Here comes the spray again. There it goes into the creek. My kids play in the creek. Wildlife drinks from the creek. Here come the rashes and snotty noses my kids get if I don't keep them out of the creek and off the sides of the roads. There goes the fur coming out in clumps on my dog. There goes the local fox stumbling around as if he has a brain fog. Need I say more? Stop spraying poisons!

Like this comment
Posted by Johnny P
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Good job by Caltrans. Looks like they are cooperating with the groups involved. I know not getting everything you would like is hard to swallow sometimes, but it is progress to what is, imo a non issue anyway. Thank goodness cal fire is standing up for those who worry about the safety issue of fire. Much worse than my dog losing clumps of hair? Such dramatics ha ha. Anyway let's keep the roadsides clear. Much appreciated.

8 people like this
Posted by You kidding me?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Johnny, How do you define "good job"?

Caltrans not telling the town of Woodside that it was spraying within town limits?

Telling residents they could post "don't spray" signs, then not honoring them?

Obfuscating future spraying with signs like "Weed Abatement/Moving Closure/Possible Delays"? And by the way, what does "moving closure" even mean?

Using chemicals whose manufacturers warn are "toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and plants. Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present." etc. etc. etc.

If you think the spraying is good, so be it. But to praise a public agency's refusal to deal honestly with the public it's supposed to be serving is madness.

7 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:03 pm

First we get sprayed with a neurotoxin for Mosquitos, now this!!! We need to stop. Some of us have been tested for high amounts of pesticides in our systems and we cannot get rid of them! And we wonder why there is so much autoimmune, cancer, Parkinson's, fatigue, a disruption to our endocrine and hormonal
Can we petition for them to not spray?

2 people like this
Posted by Johnny P
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Once again I applaud Caltrans efforts for trying to meet both sides in the middle. Fact is Caltrans has 10's of thousands of lane miles of highway to manage, and you just cant pull that many weeds. They have been spraying them since the 60's at least. Pretty good safety record as far as fires started along a roadside from an ignition source (like your overheated VW bus) because they have a chemical control.

I think if LaHonda and Woodside residents want it done a certain way, they should pay to have it done themselves. How about that you guys, you ready to ante up the $ and pay to have the weed pulling, goat nibbling or other hocus pocus done to protect your 8' of road side? Time to put your proverbial shekels where your gums flap. I thought not.

1 person likes this
Posted by Member
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:29 pm

We used to have nonprofit volunteers and actual inmates or those who were given a sentence by a judge to weed our highways.
There are other solutions besides poison.
With our unemployment at high levels, I cannot see why our county cannot pay some of our unemployed to weed vs giving them unemployment or welfare.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


our unemployment levels are decidedly NOT at high levels. Welcome to the real world.

Our state doesn't use prisoners to weed highways. Hasn't done so for decades. Some counties do, but in this case it's a state highway so county prisoners wouldn't be used.

6 people like this
Posted by Amy S
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 16, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Actually, inmates have been doing a tremendous job clearing Skyline Bld and Pagemill Road this year (and in years past). They work under the supervision of Cal Fire (I usually see a Ben Lomond truck with them).

I'd be very happy to pay extra to avoid chemical exposure. I think most residents would. If we finally raised the transportation tax on gas (which has been flat since at least 1993), perhaps Caltrans could afford to mow instead of spray. One representative at the meeting told me that Caltrans has HALF the employees it did in 1980.

Caltrans does respect other counties' bans on broadcast spraying, and they have curvy mountain roads, as well. I wish they would respect the ban our board of supervisors approved a few years ago.

7 people like this
Posted by Nick P.
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 17, 2015 at 10:16 am

I support all efforts to end broadcast spraying of toxins, period. Our land, our ocean, our blood all need a break from persistent heavy metals used in pesticides and herbicides, period, end of story, no debate. Dear CalTrans, please stop. Whether to use electric weedwackers powered by solar energy vs gasoline powered weedwackers is a much more acceptable "meeting in the middle" to me. This is basic chemistry folks.

3 people like this
Posted by Nancy at Morgan Lane
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 17, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The use of these poisons to control weeds is unnecessary and damages the ecosystem and puts people, pets and wildlife at risk. I've been trying to get our community (homeowners association) to stop using chemical pesticides and herbicides where I live and have gotten absolutely nowhere, because it seems that most people would rather have these poisons being spread than deal with weeds, snails, spiders and rodents in a responsible matter. It doesn't help that companies like ORKIN tell those who use their services and products that the chemicals they apply are "safe." They not only convinced our homeowners association that it was perfectly safe for the environment to use poisoned rat bait stations, but ORKIN also spread toxic granules (bifenthrin) to kill spiders and ants all around the community. And then we have landscapers applying Round-up (Glyphosate) and poisonous snail bait (Metaldehyde). Why? Because companies like Monsanto and Bayer Pesticide are profitable and are good at selling their chemicals to municipalities and even homeowners who don't do their homework or seem to understand the health risks associated with these dangerous chemicals. Caltrans needs to stop the spraying. There really ought to be a law prohibiting the use of these toxic chemicals.

3 people like this
Posted by Andrea Moss
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Nov 17, 2015 at 7:45 pm

This insanity must stop! I completely support a ban on the broadcast spraying of toxic pesticides and herbicides where other alternatives are possible.

3 people like this
Posted by Shimmie
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Nov 18, 2015 at 12:19 pm

As an older adult with a compromised immune system, I strongly urge Caltrans and all parks departments to stop using pesticides. These toxins leach into our waterways and contaminate the ground, plants and trees, and all life forms. All to get rid of weeds and insects, most of which are beneficial to us in so many ways. We have upset the balance so greatly, and I believe this is why so many of us are ill and compromised. Why not use the side mowers Caltrans has in more locations? Sixty years ago we weren't so sick because of our own stupidity, and recently woke up to ban DDT and other harmful toxins. Let's save the next generations and our earth, please!

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

I support the elimination of topics that run forever. Time to end this. SOS over and over and over. Give me a break

6 people like this
Posted by I know, right?
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 18, 2015 at 6:23 pm

SteveC, I just can't agree more! How can a topic as trivial as poisons in our water and soil captivate people for 48 whole hours! Can't they move on to something a bit more Kardashian or Trump? They just drone on and on about pesticide-induced illnesses, toxic wells, carcinogens and insincere government agencies. So, so, so yesterday.

You and I are more clever, though. By not commenting, we'll help this one die like a glyphosate-laden weed in drainage culvert...

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

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