City to Continue use of Pesticide in Public Parks

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Debra Bianco, (left) and Sherman Baylin protest the city’s practice of trapping and euthanizing ground squirrels at Malibu Bluffs Park. 

At last week’s Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, the city’s Integrated Pest Management policy, which was adopted Oct. 8, 2013, and spells out “best management practices for controlling pests like weeds and rodents,” was reviewed by Parks and Recreation Director Bob Stallings. 

The department reported that four herbicides are used throughout the city’s parks:  Roundup Pro (which is mostly glyphosate, declared a “possible carcinogen” by the World Health Organization), SpeedZone, Fusilade II and Dimension 270G. In all instances but one, the quantities used in each park were no more than a few ounces. 

However, according to local activist Wendi Werner, the reported amounts were for concentrate. When mixed with the specified amount of water, those ounces turn into many gallons of herbicide being sprayed. 

Legacy Park was the exception where five pounds of Roundup concentrate was used. The department explained that, due to a faulty water intake in the sprinkler system, a large part of Legacy Park had been watered with saltwater for two years, which killed off many of the native plants and allowed salt-loving weeds to flourish. 

“I’m disturbed by the chemicals you’re using … Glyphosate bio-accumulates, even if you don’t use a lot at once,” local scientist Stephen Frantz, PhD, said at the Tuesday, May 17, meeting.

Werner, one of the public speakers, obtained 40 pages of public records from the city, showing pesticide usage that was far greater than what Parks and Recreation reported. She noted numerous instances of sloppy recordkeeping and “workers not filling out the paperwork properly.” 

A number of commenters expressed that they want the city to stop trapping and euthanizing ground squirrels at Malibu Bluffs Park immediately.

“How are you euthanizing them? Are they drowned? Poisoned? Gassed?” one commenter, Sherman Baylin asked. “When I told kids who play there about the killing of the squirrels, they were appalled.”

Public commenters urged commissioners to recommend replacing the Integrated Pest Management with the “Earth Friendly Management Policy,” developed by Poison Free Malibu, founded by locals Kian and Joel Schulman. The proposed policy is based on proven best practices of national organic turf expert Chip Osborne, who they brought in at their own expense two years ago to meet with city management. According to Poison Free Malibu, Stallings has never acted on the information.

The plan would require an oversight committee of qualified individuals to approve the Parks and Recreation Department’s methods of handling “pest” plants and animals.

Commissioners Roui Israel and Laurie Principe seemed ready to adopt the earth friendly plan in its entirety, but they were told it “wasn’t their task to make policy,” and adopting it would be making policy.

Commissioners Carl Randall and Justine Petretti said they would prefer the city to be pesticide free, but reconsidered after Stallings reported information about the cost of pest control and landscaping. He explained that Malibu spends $186,000 annually on landscaping and pest control now, but costs would increase to $432,000 if no pesticides were used, and go up to $954,000 per year if weeds were pulled manually and all current aesthetics maintained.

Members of Poison Free Malibu said they believe these numbers seemed way too high.

The resolution that passed 5-0 is to recommend to city council a two-year trial period for Legacy Park, Malibu Equestrian Park and Las Flores Creek Park to go pesticide free. Volunteers will be recruited to pull weeds in order to keep down labor costs.

If being pesticide free turns out to be financially viable after two years, then Trancas and Malibu Bluffs parks will be added. 

Other than recommending an oversight committee, the commission did not directly address the squirrel killing issue. 

“Although Malibu is not poison-free yet, I feel our united voices struck a strong chord at the Parks [and Recreation] Commission meeting … [Unfortunately], scientific data does not appear to be sufficient evidence for the Parks [and Recreation] Department or the commission,” Kian Schulman said after the meeting.