In the wake of residents' concerns about Menlo Park's spraying of a synthetic herbicide called "Roundup," the city is working on updating its pesticide use policy, which was first developed 16 years ago.
While the city doesn't rely only on herbicides and pesticides for pest management -- goats grazing at Sharon Hills Park are a familiar sight -- the chemicals are part of Menlo Park's approach. According to Interim Public Works Director Jesse Quirion, the chemicals are chosen from the two categories classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as the least toxic -- Category 3 (slightly toxic) and Category 4 (least toxic).
Roundup, which contains glyphosate, is classified as Category 3, based on the EPA's database.
During a presentation to the Environmental Quality Commission on June 25, the city staff said it's now taking a closer look at how the chemicals are used and how the public is notified about spraying.
Proposed changes to be tested over the next six months include posting signs 24 hours before and after spraying; using colored markers to delineate sprayed areas; discontinuing use of spray trucks in parks; and spraying only during non-peak-use hours.
As for Roundup, it will be replaced on a trial basis by non-synthetic alternatives within 100 feet of schools, playgrounds and dog parks.
Mr. Quirion said the non-synthetic pesticide costs about $7 more per bottle than Roundup, but it will need to be applied up to three times as often and in higher concentrations, driving the cost up.
Menlo Park resident Elizabeth Houck said the changes aren't enough. "Ban (Roundup) city-wide, residential (uses) too." She suggested that the other ingredients used in the herbicide in addition to glyphosate make it dangerous.
The city will also continue to evaluate ways to reduce pesticide use and expand alternative weed-control methods currently in use, such as mowing and weeding.
Not all trials pan out: A year-long test run of using wood mulch chips instead of herbicides along a strip of Chilco Street in 2011 ended up requiring six times as long -- to mow and then spread the chips -- as spraying the area would've taken, according to the staff.
The experiment was meant to see whether Menlo Park should skip the chemicals in favor of alternate, non-toxic maintenance as Portola Valley and Woodside do along roadside shoulders.
But in general, based on the staff's data, Menlo Park has reduced its herbicide use more than 27 percent over the past two decades, even as the city has added 37 acres of land to its maintenance roster.