Encinitas will pilot a pesticide-free park at the request of residents who have health and environmental concerns.
The Encinitas City Council last week directed staff to bring back a fleshed-out plan for maintaining one of the city’s 19 parks sans pesticides. If the council deems the test program successful, the initiative could move to more or even all city parks.
On a related note, Encinitas Parks and Recreation staff announced the department last September banned neonicotinoid insecticides on city property. Studies have implicated neonicotinoids — commonly sprayed on trees, shrubs and lawns — in the national bee die-off.
The Bee Informed Partnership, made up of universities and laboratories, stated around 5,000 beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies during a 12-month period ending in April. That’s the second highest loss since year-round records started in 2010.
In support of Parks and Recreation eliminating neonicotinoids, the council directed staff to formally include the ban in city documents.
“I want to shout that from the mountaintop,” said Councilman Tony Kranz of the neonicotinoid ban.
Kranz also cheered city data showing a drop over the last four years in pesticide use in city parks, but added he’d like to see those numbers closer to zero.
Along with the pilot project, the Parks and Recreation Department is developing a new integrated pest management policy that outlines ways to reduce pesticides on city property. The strategy favors the least toxic pest-control methods, and products are applied gingerly to use as little as possible. Typically, integrated pest management also entails hand-weeding, mulching, efficient drainage and other alternatives.
Public speaker Sara Parra urged the council to scrap all pesticides for health reasons, citing a 2010 study from UC Berkeley. It found some children who were exposed to organophosphate pesticides while still in their mother’s womb were more likely to develop attention disorders years later.
Mothers and children who took part in the study are Mexican-Americans living in an agricultural community, so their exposures to organophosphate pesticides is likely higher than the average U.S. population, according to a news release for the study. But the researchers also pointed out this type of pesticide is widely used, saying the results warrant precautionary measures.
Parra added the city’s existing policy discourages pesticides, but city landscaping contracts contradict this language by allowing them.
“How will things be different this time around?” Parra asked, referring to the new integrated pest management program.
Jason La Riva, park and beach superintendent, said the city has been moving away from strong chemicals and plans to continue. He noted a decline in pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use in Encinitas parks and beaches, with 505 applications in 2012, 418 in 2013, 274 in 2014 and 129 so far this year.
The city last fiscal year spent $162,144 on pest management at city parks and facilities, and $104,433 in the current fiscal year that ends this month, according to a rough city estimate. Switching to a chemical-free pest plan on city properties could be 80 to 100 percent more expensive annually, city staff stated.
That’s largely because a non-chemical approach would demand spraying more often, said Lisa Rudloff, parks and recreation director.
Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer, who put forward the idea of a pilot project, suggested also putting up signs at the selected park to explain the city is going without pesticides. That way, the city could get feedback on the initiative.
Shaffer added the city doesn’t have the legal basis to prohibit pesticides on private property, though it could set a good example for residents and homeowners associations.
A beekeeper by trade and hobbyist, public speaker James McDonald applauded the city for banning neonicotinoids on city property. He also stated that Seattle has maintained 14 of its parks since 2001 without pesticides, encouraging Encinitas to follow suit.
“Last I checked, Seattle hasn’t blown off the map or been consumed by a plague of locusts,” McDonald said.
Staff’s plan, which will go back to council at an undetermined date, will include a start date and time span for the pilot project.