Almanac

News - February 9, 2011

Menlo Park: 'No spray' zone sprayed with pesticide

• City staff unclear as to how or why this happened.

by Sandy Brundage

The patch of roadside scrub that was supposed to be set aside as a pilot "no spray" zone this winter in Menlo Park was in fact sprayed with pesticide.

City staff had no explanation. "My staff was onboard with this area as a no pesticide use zone so we're unclear who or why anyone would want to spray there," Dave Mooney, who supervises park and tree maintenance, wrote in response to questions residents raised about the project.

He added that staff is now looking at a patch along Chilco Street in Belle Haven as an alternate test site.

The experiment was meant to see whether Menlo Park could skip the pesticides in favor of alternate, non-toxic maintenance as Portola Valley and Woodside do.

Mr. Mooney scheduled the pilot project for the intersection of Oak Ave and Sand Hill Road, according to Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) minutes from Oct. 6, 2010.

Last spring, former mayor Steve Schmidt asked the City Council to stop the spraying in accordance with the city's policy of minimal or no use of pesticides. He also made a presentation to the EQC that led to the pilot project.

Saying he thought Menlo Park residents would rather see signs of spring instead of "scorched roadsides looking like Death Valley," Mr. Schmidt suggested mowing the vegetation instead.

"Dave Mooney and all his predecessors don't understand how it's done or just won't do it because they've never done it before. And because neither the Council nor the City Manager cares enough to give the maintenance staff direction to do the right thing," said Mr. Schmidt.

Howard Young, director of Public Works for Portola Valley, said the town has spent about $10,000 a year for the past four years to maintain roadside shrubbery with weed-whacking crews instead of pesticides.

"We still do use low toxicity chemicals in other places, but not the road shoulders," Mr. Young said. "Weed whacking is more expensive but provides a better product, so one really cannot compare the two fairly. Weed whacking also lets us selectively avoid killing native wildflowers."

Cost may be an issue for Menlo Park, according to Mr. Schmidt. "However, the timing of the spraying deprives road users of one of the few seasonal pleasures we Californians enjoy. They also have sprayed over running water that is destined for the creek, a big no-no for using Round-up and other herbicides."

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