Editorial: Residents rightfully miffed over roadside spraying | March 11, 2015 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - March 11, 2015

Editorial: Residents rightfully miffed over roadside spraying

To spray or not to spray? That is a question — but certainly not the only one — residents of unincorporated San Mateo County have been doggedly asking Caltrans, which has decided to spray herbicides along 12-plus miles of Highway 84 west of Skyline Boulevard this month. Another equally important question is: Are Caltrans decision-makers showing respect for and good faith toward residents who oppose chemical weed-control and were assured by the agency that they would be given advance notice of future spraying?

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Posted by Patty Clary
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Caltrans District 1, which encompasses the rainiest and thus most intense vegetative region of the state, uses no herbicides on state highways in Humboldt and Mendocino counties and most of Trinity and Del Norte counties due to longstanding opposition of North Coast residents. In fact, no herbicide spraying is done along the coast from the Oregon border to the Marin Headlands. Several other, more localized state highway no-herbicide roads include the South Coast Topanga Canyon area where Caltrans is currently investigating alternatives. On the North Coast, District 1 been mowing only for seventeen years. The roadsides look great and District 1 has won several awards for its outstanding effort to implement alternatives. Even mowing, it turns out, must be done in accordance with biological imperatives to be successful. What's more, adjacent landowners needn't dread drift of toxic herbicides onto their property. Nor do state patrol officers, hikers and people fixing flat tires risk unknowingly being exposed to biologically active chemicals when trudging though roadside weeds. It's a no-brainer, really. If it can be done on District 1's twisty and often busy roadsides surely the same would apply in San Mateo County.

Posted by David Strohm
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Thank you for that Patty.,, and to the ALmanac for making this a priority. Indeed when our wonderful county supervisors asked county public works to mow instead of spray, despite ominous warnings of weeds taking over the roads, everything has been fine. Their arguments were the same. Spraying is "easy"... and "cheap"... that's what they have always done. But these herbicides are lethal. And the sprayer arm often crosses running culverts emptying into our watershed. Caltrans administration has to join their fellow agencies in getting a clue. David Strohm
La Honda

Posted by Marina
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2015 at 6:09 pm

My real concern is the health of our watershed and our water supply. All of the road's drainage eventually makes its way to the creeks.
Spraying does nothing for the safety of the people using the road. I am sure the bicyclists note that the vegetation along the road is still high, even if it is dead after spraying the herbicides. And that is dangerous for all traffic. There are alternatives to broadcast spraying: mowing, spot spraying, planting low growing native fire resistant plants. I say we can work on this problem collaboratively and come to a healthier solution. And more pleasing to the eye as well.

Posted by la honda area resident
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 11, 2015 at 6:26 pm

Thank you to the Almanac for this great editorial. It is high time CalTrans LISTENS and follows ITS OWN steps in District 1 and other wildlife rich areas where spraying has been replaced by non-toxic mowing.

They have used delay tactics, turned a deaf ear and funneled all communication with residents through an "information officer", their PR person, who clearly has no authority and just robotically sends out empty communiques.
Why are the people with any responsibility in this matter hiding and refusing to face the community?
Why hasn't there been any real, good faith effort to take this seriously and to end this toxic practice?

With my deep gratitude to all who have continued to keep this issue alive and pressure CalTrans despite years of stonewalling.

Posted by Nick Peters
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 11, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Even down here in Fair Oaks it is great to know that we have folks like Patty looking out for our watershed. Thanks to all who have participated in telling Caltrans that this community has a voice as well.

Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 12, 2015 at 12:06 pm

This is a very good editorial. Thank you to The Almanac for publishing it. I'd like to add my comments below, if you please.

I know lots more about chemicals and pesticides than I ever wanted to because I have a strong background in the understanding of social policies, sustainability and talk radio about sustainability. My bottom lines are these:

1.) It's impossible to isolate chemicals in *any* environment, and anyone who tells you that any chemical is safe is somehow lying, or misguided, or trying to profit at the direct expense of your health, and that of your family's and friends'.

Take a look at Environmental Working Group's video, "10 Americans" if you'd like an intelligent start to this concept (Web Link Chemicals in human bloodstreams have been shown to be active on endocrine systems at levels around 0.035 parts per billion. That's a level *less* than 4/100 of a pancake in a stack of them about 4,000 miles high. So if anyone tells you that pesticides won't affect you, you can explain their scientism is completely wrong. Now, think about what that means for other living organisms and systems.

Another big, but positive example of the effects of substances on living systems is the airborne sand dust from Saharan Africa's Bodele depression, which feeds 40+ million tons of dust annually to Amazon forests' ecosystems. Dust from Africa feeds the Amazon. Who knew? People *looking* for connections knew. Think about the scale of that. There are myriad other examples of this.

Now, imagine what happens immediately downstream from the toxic chemicals sprayed by CalTrans, in a much smaller, more closely-knit system. Like the Skyline forests and watershed.

2.) The chemical industry is constantly trying to sell us/you toxic, destructive chemicals. Corporations are typically built sans conscience, and most of the largest ones, including the chemical manufacturers, couldn't care less about your health or that of the planet's. You have the choice to say, "No," and don't have to accept what they want you to. If it's Monsanto's glyphosate which CalTrans is spraying, I'd say that's even worse because there are plenty of very good scientific studies that glyphosate wreaks seven kinds of hell on anything living. And, anyone smart with any sense can tell you that pesticide spraying results in a positive feedback loop where more of the same toxic, damaging substance is needed to achieve the same kill rates. Pesticides like glyphosate kill and/or maim myriad other animals including amphibians. You've heard of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring?" That was written 50+ years ago.

3.) "We're from the government and we're here to help." Will any of us ever again believe that? I won't.

I came to La Honda wanting to get away from destructive city politics. Because urban culture is right next door, I ocassionally expect a fight to preserve sustainability. This is that, a small fight. And unless you stand to be counted, you'll lose.

Posted by South Skyline resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2015 at 8:11 am

Thank you to the Almanac for your coverage of this issue. I completely agree with this editorial.

Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 14, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Apropos of this discussion is a pretty good article from the BBC News about endocrine disruptors in our daily lives (Web Link

The one thing I'd suggest is that the tone of this BBC article doesn't address strongly enough the people who are in this moment getting sick or sustaining injury from chemical (pesticide) poisonings while hard science and governments dither around. By the time the companies who create toxic, damaging destructive chemicals are able to begrudgingly and fully agree something is happening, we will have sustained far more damage than anyone imagined. Children and adults alike *will* suffer, whether or not they are told the cause or know why.

And CalTrans and/or the chemical manufacturers can be let completely off the hook by the best government the companies can buy to suit only their conscience-free profits. Time to be heard if you own a conscience.

Posted by Arla LeCount
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2015 at 3:29 pm

San Mateo County has already made modifications to their procedures to stop broadcast spraying in the County. CalTrans has made that change in other areas, so it is doable. What is missing is the will. Yes, it is easier to do broadcast spraying and just kill everything on either side of the road. However, that pesticide residue does eventually end up in the watershed, affecting native plants, fish and amphibians. The area in question is some of the most beautiful landscape in the Bay Area, much of it designated Open Space, set aside for everyone in the region to enjoy. Is this how we want to treat our special wild areas, reserved for future generations? We know better.

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