The blue patches are where Roundup was sprayed.
  • The blue patches are where Roundup was sprayed.
  • Photograph by Scott MacLaggan
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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.”

School groups often visit the Dog Beach areas that city workers spray with Roundup. Many believe the glyphosate-based herbicide causes cancer.

School groups often visit the Dog Beach areas that city workers spray with Roundup. Many believe the glyphosate-based herbicide causes cancer.

Photograph by Scott MacLaggan

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.’”

Workers cart the herbicide around city parks in wheel barrows.

Workers cart the herbicide around city parks in wheel barrows.

Photograph by Scott MacLaggan

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.

Herbicides are used to kill non-native, invasive species.

Herbicides are used to kill non-native, invasive species.

Photograph by Scott MacLaggan

“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.”

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AlexClarke July 25, 2019 @ 8:29 a.m.

Round Up is a product name. If you go to ____ (insert Lowes, Ace, Dixieline, Home Depot, etc.) and look at the active ingredient in Round Up and the active ingredient in generic weed killer it is the same.


Sd_rob July 25, 2019 @ 9:33 a.m.

The San Diego River Park Foundation does not and never has had a contract with the firm that this article states that we hired. We request that an immediate correction be made, that this part of the article be stricken, and that a statement be made in your next print issue to publicly correct this error.


DeLo July 25, 2019 @ 3:59 p.m.

Article will be corrected soon, in the meantime, Rob is correct, I mistakenly identified SDRP as having a contract, when in fact it is the City who is responsible. The San Diego River Park Foundation DOES NOT contract with Diversified. Sincere apologies for the incorrect citation. *Delinda Lombardo


Miramatt July 25, 2019 @ 10:01 a.m.

As one who ardently appreciates our native ecosystems, it is jarring to me to hear someone speaking positively of a plant listed under the worst category of Cal-IPC's list of invasive plants as "highly invasive": The Crown Daisy is one of the worst offenders when it comes to outcompeting and completely overwhelming the native biodiversity in the areas it takes over, replacing our complexly interdependent plants and the animals that depend on them with a monoculture of a plant that grows fast, spreads a lot of seeds, then dies off leaving that area barren the rest of the year.

As for the methods used to eradicate it, well, bacon and coffee made the Prop 65 list before glyphosate did, and I haven't stopped eating either of them.


bearpack July 28, 2019 @ 10 a.m.

So you would rather spray a poison (and known carcinogen) and essentially contaminate a pristine area just to maintain native ecosystems. That makes no sense whatsoever from a public health or ecological perspective. Connect the dots ... if you spray a carcinogen on a plant and an insect lands on that plant and then a lizard eats that insect and a bird eats that insect, what do you think is going to happen? If you've ever had cancer or been through the disease with a loved one, you wouldn't so casually trivialize Prop 65 with mis-informed comments about your love of coffee and bacon.

Moreover, the notion of native plants is an illusion ... nothing on the planet is native to its origin if you trace the biological and geologic record back far enough. Unless you're Native American, then neither of us are native either to this ecosystem.

There are safer non-toxic methods for weed control. Being a flunky and apologist for the chemical industry through advocating for the use of glyphosate is immoral.


jenlrin Nov. 9, 2019 @ 7:54 a.m.

Phillipp said herbicide use is expected to decrease throughout the five-year maintenance and monitoring period as the native plants are able to grow and naturally compete on their own.


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