Malibu Rodenticide Ban Passes

The remains of the mountain lion P-76

The fight for a total ban on rodenticides (rat poison) within the City of Malibu is now one step closer to reality. Achieving a ban has popular support among residents—particularly since 20-plus years of National Park Service research in the Santa Monica Mountains gives overwhelming proof that rat poison travels up the food chain to kill and sicken our local mountain lions, hawks, owls, bobcats and coyotes.

Last Thursday, May 13, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve a revised version of a proposed amendment to the Land Use Plan (LUP) section of the certified Malibu Local Coastal Program (LCP) regarding the use of pesticides. This was considered a huge win by many of those involved in the seven-year-long process, particularly Joel and Kian Schulman, founders of the nonprofit Poison Free Malibu.

Restriction of the use of rodenticides is a tricky process, because a 1984 state law preempts local governments like Malibu’s from “prohibiting or in any way attempting to regulate … pesticides.” However, the code does not limit the authority of other state agencies to enforce other state laws, such as the California Coastal Commission’s enforcement of the California Coastal Act of 1976. The commission is authorized to regulate pesticides as necessary to carry out the Coastal Act. Courts have held that LCPs like Malibu’s are certified by the commission and therefore represent state policy rather than local government.

Pesticides are now banned throughout the City of Malibu. According to the new rules, “development that involves the use of pesticides, which includes insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides or any other similar toxic chemical substances, shall be prohibited in cases where the application of such substances would have the potential to significantly degrade Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas or coastal water quality or harm wildlife.” The definition of development in this case is broad—even the application of a pesticide in itself can be considered to be “development.”

“This is a complex issue, because the people want rodenticides banned,” said Malibu Interim Planning Director Richard Mollica in a phone interview. “I see this as a start for us and a very good step in the right direction. The important thing is that we got this into the LCP—a state document.”

“This amendment change is a policy change only,” Mollica emphasized, “but it opens the door to allow the city to include conditions regarding the use of pesticides on a property immediately.” 

The city already has a stated condition on new projects of “no use of rodenticides.” The new amendment will also allow city council to move forward with specific city ordinances on the use of rodenticides in development as soon as the amendment is sent back to Malibu for certification next month.

The revised wording of the LUP amendment was hashed out in dozens of meetings between coastal commission staff, Cal-EPA (the state Environmental Protection Agency), the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), Poison Free Malibu and the Malibu Planning Department over the past 16 months. 

The Schulmans provided a statement to The Malibu Times listing the many supporters of the amendment, including numerous area nonprofits and citizen groups, with others, including volunteer groups and politicians, voicing their endorsement in “hundreds of support letters.”

“We are confident that the City of Malibu can implement the amendment in an effective manner, and we will be working with them to help,” the statement concluded.

CCC suggested in its staff report that, since the City of Malibu has adopted an Earth Friendly Management program for its properties, it should “identify non-toxic and earth-friendly management techniques for controlling pests and conduct public outreach to promote the use of such techniques.”

Coastal commission staff also noted that CA Assembly Bill 1788 went into effect January 1, temporarily prohibiting four kinds of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides throughout the state—at least until the DPR finishes its evaluation. 

One of the 13 people making public comments at last week’s coastal commission meeting was Malibu resident Rebecca Dmytryk, who pointed out that the DPR is largely funded by the pesticide industry—the same industry it is supposed to be regulating, creating a “significant conflict of interest.”

“It’s my understanding they receive the majority of their funding from the registration, sale and use of pesticides,” she said. “How is it ever going to be in their best interest to reduce pesticide use?”

According to the DPR website, the department “is funded by regulatory fees, penalties and a small amount of federal funds … The largest revenue source is the mill assessment—a fee levied on pesticide sales at the point of first sale into the state.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the rodenticide ban applied to only ESHA. The ban actually applies to areas “where the application of such substances would have the potential to significantly degrade Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas or coastal water quality or harm wildlife.” The story has been updated with correct information.