Petaluma studies alternatives to Roundup

As glyphosate-based weed killers are added to a state list of cancer-causing chemicals, the city reviewed its policy.|

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.

“All the current alternatives are more expensive,” she said. “But when it comes to health and safety, we feel that it’s important to find a solution that doesn’t harm the general public, kids, dogs, the environment and all those things.”

No Roundup is currently being used in parks or medians, DiNicola said.

A group of residents, including beekeeper Reg Rodriguez, met with city officials in May to outline concerns about herbicide use. Rodriguez said spraying could injure his bees and cause larger detrimental impacts to the colony. He advocated for a set of “best practices” to be adopted by the city, including more high-tech communication strategies to give notice of spraying beyond the current practice of posting signs 48 hours in advance.

“I think what I’d like to see number one is the communication - where they’re going to do it and information on what they’re spraying and why select this one as opposed to these other choices.”

Sonya Tafejian, a resident who spoke out against the recent use of Lifeline, one of the products used during testing, urged the city and its residents to rethink their use of chemicals.

“We should mow or fund mulch or find another nontoxic alternative – this stuff ends up in the river and the air,” Tafejian said. “I haven’t studied all these alternatives (the city has used) to say this one is OK, so I’m going to fall back on mow our weeds. It would be really great if people wouldn’t spray herbicides that have been deemed as a carcinogen.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at

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