WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously banned the citywide use of a widely used weed killer, rejecting a proposal from city staff that would have allowed its limited use in certain areas.
The ban on glyphosate, an herbicide better known as Roundup, is effective July 1. The council made a temporary exception for the Watsonville Municipal Airport, where weed control on and near the runways is considered essential for pilot safety.
Once a project to reseal the runways has been completed – expected to be in September – the ban will also go into effect there.
The complete prohibition on glyphosate fell short of what Parks and Community Services directors were asking for as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) proposal.
Assistant Director Ben Heistein asked city staff to approve a one-year IPM pilot study that would have suspended the use of Roundup in Ramsay Park, Marinovich Park, the bicycle and pedestrian trail along Pennsylvania Avenue, the medians on Bridge Street and the Pajaro River Levee.
In addition, the plan called for a wide range of weed removal alternatives such as hand-pulling, biological controls and preventative maintenance, thus creating unfavorable conditions for pests and weeds. Herbicides and pesticides would be used only when necessary.
The $120,000 plan included $50,000 for a consultant that would have monitored a one-year pilot program.
The goal, Heistein said, was to keep weeds at bay while reducing or eliminating the need for Roundup and help the city establish a permanent pest management program.
Weed removal is essential to reduce fire risks around homes, increase visibility for motorists along medians and protect infrastructure from damage from encroaching plants, he said.
The city has already reduced its use of Roundup by 49 percent, Heistein pointed out, saying it is used along fence lines and medians and only “as a last resort when other methods have failed.”
Roundup is currently used on only 10 percent of city-owned land, he said.
Further reducing it would require more city staff time to remove unwanted weeds. In addition, herbicide alternatives to Roundup are typically less effective, requiring more frequent application, Heistein said.
All of this would mean increased cost to the city, he said.
The controversial herbicide is considered a carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, and the State of California put it on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals that cause cancer.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Santa Cruz County and City of Santa Cruz already have their own versions of a glyphosate ban.
“The city shares the public’s concerns, and is committed to investigating ways to phase out Roundup while maintaining high quality parks, facilities and public grounds for the community,” Heistein said.
Councilman Felipe Hernandez suggested that the city start an adopt-a-park program in which citizens could help by keeping parks and trails weed-free.
“For me, I would rather do an all out ban in parks and trails,” he said.
Councilwoman Ari Parker said she was happy when PVUSD stopped using Roundup.
“I was a school teacher, and they sprayed right outside my classroom with kids walking around,” she said.
Council members Aurelio Gonzalez, Rebecca Garcia and Mayor Francisco Estrada briefly said they would only support a full ban, but compromised on allowing the glyphosate at the airport until the runways are resurfaced.
PVUSD teacher Jennifer Khan said that the use of Roundup has made her reluctant to let her young relatives to play outside.
“My great-grand kids and great- nieces and nephews come to visit and I don’t want to take them to the park,” she said.
Ohlone Elementary School teacher Melissa Dennis, who has long advocated for the cessation of dangerous agricultural chemicals around schools, said that they can have serious health consequences for young people.
“My colleagues and I have always suspected that pesticides and herbicides are contributing to the learning problems in our students,” she said.
Dennis rejected the notion that the city should consider the financial impacts of banning Roundup.
“We need to think about the health costs, the human costs, the costs to our children,” she said.
Outside the meeting, Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib said the IPM was a way to give the city a broad picture of the problem.
“Our concerns are for the health and safety of the community,” he said. “I’m just unsure about what tomorrow’s going to bring.”
What is likely, Calubaquib said, is that the increased number of weeds will mean an extra workload for city staff.
“This means that there are other things we are not going to be able to do,” Calubaquib said.
The council will decide on whether to hire a consultant to help develop an IPM plan at an upcoming budget discussion, City Manager Matt Huffaker said.
In other action, the council unanimously approved a plan to rezone three parcels at 376 Green S. Green Valley Rd., properties that are owned by Green Valley Christian Church. The new zoning will allow the city to build a trail along Struve Slough that will connect to an existing trail system.
The council also approved a plan to spend $411,300 for a consultant to help the city develop a Water System Master Plan.
Carollo Engineers will assess Watsonville’s water production, distribution and storage systems to help the city develop a 20-year strategic plan.
The money will come from the city’s Zone 1 or 2 Wells project.