Petaluma officials are considering eliminating the use of glyphosate-based products such as Roundup in city parks, a costly proposal drafted after residents’ vocal concern about the increasingly controversial herbicide.
The city has spent more than a year experimenting with four products touted as more natural options to weed killers like Roundup, an herbicide that’s been used by the city on a limited basis for years. Those alternative products have proven to be significantly more costly, require more frequent applications and are much less effective at eradicating weeds than their glyphosate-based counterparts, said Parks, Facilities and Maintenance Manager Ron DiNicola.
“It’s a maintenance dilemma,” he said.
He’s crafted changes to the city’s policy that would prohibit Roundup use in parks, instead opting for FinalSan, a so-called herbicidal soap. The city’s Parks, Recreation and Music Committee reviewed the results of the study at a meeting last month, and the issue is expected to be back before the committee in September or October, DiNicola said.
The city’s current Integrated Pest Management Plan, a guiding blueprint for solving pest issues while minimizing risks that was adopted in 1999, requires the city to exhaust all other resources before applying herbicides, and avoid areas like playgrounds and picnic spaces.
The city’s standard practice of Roundup application costs $15,600 for 250 labor hours and 50 gallons of product. Under the proposed plan, applying FinalSan could cost as much as $102,940 a year for 580 hours of labor and more than 1,650 gallons of the product. Those costs could be reduced by using seasonal employees and leaning on the community to pitch in volunteer labor through “Adopt a Park” programs or other organized efforts to quell weeds.
Councilman Dave King said it would be necessary for the cash-strapped city to rely on volunteers to accommodate such a proposal.
“I seriously doubt based on my information about the budget coming up in the next two years that we’re going to be able to increase the labor force associated with this,” he said.
The city of Richmond banned the use of herbicides in public properties in 2015, and labor costs have nearly doubled while weeds remain out of control, DiNicola wrote in a staff report. He noted that without Roundup, weeds would likely be more prevalent around Petaluma as well.
“The question is what is the threshold that people can live with? If you say, I can live with weeds on the fence line and then … weeds impact a lot of people with asthma and hay fever,” he said. “You’ve got all these balls to juggle in terms of landscape maintenance.”
After a recent move by California regulators, glyphosate will this month be placed on a statewide list of potentially cancerous chemicals. While some agencies, such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed glyphosate “probably carcinogenic” to humans, others, such as the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations deemed it “unlikely” to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through diet.
Despite an outcry last year, no members of the public spoke at the June 21 committee meeting. Chairwoman Beverly Schor said she was surprised by the lack of a community response, but supports moving forward with changes.