By Barbara Wood | Special to the Almanac
Residents of rural San Mateo County who oppose the roadside spraying of herbicides to control weeds were upset to find out recently that a fight they thought they had won in 2012 when the county ordered a stop to most spraying isn't really over.
On June 6, Patty Mayall, who lives off Highway 84 near La Honda in unincorporated San Mateo County, received an email from Caltrans informing her that the state would be spraying herbicides along 12.6 miles of Hwy. 84 on June 10 and June 11, between Highway 1 and where Old La Honda Road crosses Hwy. 84, east of the town of La Honda.
Ms. Mayall, afraid she was the only resident who was informed, had to scramble to notify other residents over the weekend.
If residents post "No spray" signs on their property, Caltrans will not spray in that location, Ms. Mayall said. "But how can people opt out from having their property sprayed when they don't know the spraying is taking place?" Ms. Mayall said. "Without on-road notifications posted by Caltrans, how can pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and residents avoid exposure?"
In addition to San Mateo County giving up the use of herbicides, many local jurisdictions, including Woodside, which maintains miles of rural roadways, do not spray herbicides but instead mow or manually remove weeds. Caltrans does not spray within the limits of any city, according to Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro.
"It is disturbing that the public's health, watershed, and residents' protests are not more important than the unnecessary use of toxic chemicals," Ms. Mayall said. "Mowing is most effective for all purposes, especially for visibility and fire safety."
Caltrans did post the spray warning on its website but not until June 10 at 2:34 pm, after the spraying was already underway.
The residents have asked members of the county Board of Supervisors to help them convince Caltrans to stop spraying in the county.
The residents may have believed Caltrans had stopped broadcast spraying of herbicides on roadsides because they had not been informed of any spraying since the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on March 13, 2012, to end the broadcast spraying of herbicides on county roads and in parks.
But the county has no authority over Caltrans, and Caltrans controls miles of roadside in San Mateo County.
After the resolution was passed, Ms. Navarro said the agency would spray along state highways "if we have issues such as weeds that are impeding safety devices, fire danger, site distances, noxious weeds, etc." She also promised Caltrans would give notice before a spray is applied.
That promise appears to not have been kept. On the Caltrans blog, which Patty Mayall says she did not know existed, there is a notice of spraying on Highway 84 in January 2014, which residents say they did not know about.
Ms. Navarro, who is the Caltrans public affairs information officer for San Mateo County, said that Highway 84 "was not sprayed in 2013 at all due to time constraints."