The use of the weed killer Roundup at city parks has spawned an organized opposition movement known as Campaign for a Non Toxic San Diego.“After learning Dog Beach, Dusty Rhodes Park, Robb Field, Shelter Island, and Spanish Landing are being sprayed, ” said Anne Jackson, “we quickly turned into a campaign for the city of San Diego to adopt a non-toxic approach to park management — like the city of Irvine, which places organic methods as a priority — and discontinue the use of glyphosate herbicides and toxic chemicals in our city.”
The campaign for a Non Toxic San Diego began earlier this year after the San Diego Reader published an article about the redevelopment of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and the use of the chemical there. Since that time, it’s been documented that contractors are violating federal law in terms of public safety warnings and lack of protective gear for the employees applying it.
“I am a native,” Jackson says, explaining her motivation. “I grew up walking the beach and trails, visiting low tides. Sunset Cliffs is my backyard and I am grateful to have grown up here and experienced the beauty our park has. Growing up we called [the park] the daisy trail. As a child it was especially thrilling when the daisies got taller than I was. We made daisy crowns to wear in our hair. It was magical.”
These days, those daisies are chemically killed in their infancy by Roundup-spraying city parks workers.
“I was walking my 10-year-old dog Bear at the cliffs. We were walking where the softball field used to be. Alice and Wonderland Canyon is on my right side,” Jackson says. “I was walking to a spot I like to look back towards Ladera Street and watch the beach below, check out the surf, the reef. From behind me I heard the maintenance cart coming. He was going slow. He followed Bear and me down the trail. I paid no attention figuring they would be doing some work. I went to my viewpoint and a fellow dog walker popped up out of a canyon with her two mutts. Bear likes this dog walker because she always carries dog treats. Our dogs played as we chatted and looked out over the ocean. Then we noticed they were spraying. The other dog walker immediately went over the group around the truck and said ‘What are you spraying?’ And they said, ‘Herbicide.’”
The herbicide has been identified as RangerPro (Roundup). The city has a contract with Habitat West Inc. to maintain the area for the next five years.
Pesticide use reports submitted to the county from Habitat West Inc. reflect that from December 1, 2018, through March 1, 2019, the company used the herbicide for weed abatement at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, the Tijuana River, Fairbanks Ranch Golf Course Channel, Kit Carson, One Oak, Harmony Grove, 55th Street, Lakeside Ranch, Lakeside Conservatory-Woodside Drainage, Canyon View, and Los Cielos. Concerns about potential health and environmental risks associated with the herbicide, which contains the chemical glyphosate, have been going on for years. Bayer acquired Monsanto’s glyphosate-based products when it purchased the company in a $66 billion deal finalized last year.
In 2015, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate “probably” causes cancer. Currently there are thousands of lawsuits pending against the manufacturers; two suits recently settled in favor of the plaintiffs.
Jackson and her fellow dog walker talked with the sprayer about the bluff-stabilizing qualities of the vegetation. “But there were also people spraying behind us.” She took video of the spraying which she posted to Facebook.
In March, Jackson (and several others) met with San Diego City Council District 2 communications director Jordan Beane and policy advisor Seamus Kennedy from councilwoman Jennifer Campbell’s office. Non Toxic San Diego members presented a proposal to Campbell’s representatives. Beane and Kelly subsequently said they are requesting an audit of the contractor for the spraying in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park and at the Dog Beach/San Diego River/Least Tern protected habitat.
“Having the city ban glyphosate is doable,” Jackson relayed via email after the meeting. “The documentation we provided proved that the contractors are not following the directions of the [Environmental Protection Agency] on the Ranger Pro and Roundup labels. This is a federal violation…. My concern with the spraying is the impact to the environment as a whole and to the health of all things living.”
Another Point Loma resident filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture’s pesticide division, which triggered an investigation of the misuse of the herbicide at Sunset Cliffs. I contacted the investigator on the case, Jen Murphy, who confirmed that it is a federal violation to apply this herbicide “without a license, without gloves, or protective gear, and without signs warning the public of the spraying.”
On February 8 and 11, workmen were photographed by “Sue” without protective gear and with a wheelbarrow full of Roundup, dispersing it along the San Diego River Park and Dog Beach area.
“They are spot-spraying glyphosate to eradicate invasive plants in a wetlands area, specifically, the San Diego River/Dog Beach Estuary,” Sue explained via email. “This area is usually fenced off and protected this time of year for least tern nesting.”
Sue also filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture’s pesticide division, as well as the city’s storm water pollution division, which, she says, “brushed her off.”
The city of San Diego has a contract with Diversified Landscaping Inc. to continue the invasive weed eradication work until 2020.
“Bear is too old to go down the Ladera Street stairs anymore, but he loved going to minus low tides to walk as far south as we could,” Jackson adds. “Now we like to watch from above. Everything they sprayed is dead. The erosion that is happening in the area I videoed is bad.”
Jackson has continued to urge city officials, via dozens of emails, to follow the laws regarding the application, to post warning signs when spraying, and ultimately do away with this pesticide. Since March 2019, some signs have been posted in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park alerting the public of herbicides being applied, however, as the Campaign for a Non Toxic San Diego gains in numbers, ongoing violations are being reported.
On July 3rd, members of the campaign took photos of Diversified Landscape apparently violating federal laws while applying Roundup along the San Diego River Bikeway.
Scott MacLaggen voiced his concerns to Jackson via email regarding the activity he’s witnessed. “This project has been going on for several months. At first they only removed weeds by hand. For the last month or so they have been using the poison,” he explains. “The photos of the blue stuff were taken on July 3, 2019 at 9:45 am. Most, if not all of this area, is underwater at high tide so this poison is certainly entering into the environment and spreading throughout the entire ecosystem…. I walk these trails with my dog on most weekday mornings and have watched this develop. I especially like the purple flowering plant, which they are destroying. There are drips and trails of the blue stuff on the paths and other areas.”
MacLaggen sent an email to Araceli Dominguez, a park ranger for the city of San Diego asking: ‘Why is a confirmed carcinogen herbicide allowed to pool in an open wheelbarrow in a public park, leaving a trail along the path where people, dogs and other creatures travel? Shouldn’t there be better control of and care taken with the use of this? Should it be used in a public park at all? There was recently a $2 billion jury award in a Monsanto Roundup cancer lawsuit trial.”
Her response: ‘I was informed that Diversified Landscape has been approved to use herbicide to eradicate invasive weeds such as the European sea lavender. This is most likely the group you saw when you took the pictures. They are part of the West Mission Bay Bridge project and that area is part of the 10-acre mitigation site.’
Meanwhile, Jackson has received only one email in response to the hundreds she sent out. It was from “Jen Campbell’s office after I sent an email with pictures of them spraying [Sunset Cliffs] on July 2…. Other than that, I’ve gotten no responses from any of the city council reps, the mayor, port authority, or county reps. I sent emails almost daily for months,” Jackson told me. “I rarely email them anymore as I feel my time is better spent rallying the community via social media and asking them to send emails.”
Jackson’s dog Bear has since passed away. “I can’t help but wonder if the cancer in his gum and jaw bone was caused by the pesticide usage in the parks he grew up in. Sunset Cliffs, Dog Beach, Shelter Island, Dusty Rhodes, NTC Liberty Station. Parks I now know have used Roundup products for years.”