Issues highlight: Rohnert Park/Cotati, Windsor, Healdsburg, and Petaluma
Updated: Jun 8
Here are some opportunities to help bring beautiful toxic-free solutions to your community.
It's wonderful to know that since Sonoma SASS began its pesticide education programs the majority of cities and schools in Sonoma County have made commitments to reduce or eliminate using synthetic herbicides. In 2017 most of our local parks and open spaces were managed with chemicals like RoundUp, this is no longer the case!!
Given our complex regulatory system in California this work has not been easy. It is not legally possible (yet) to make an outright ban on pesticide use in public spaces. As a result, our work has been to slowly and systematically approach each city, each school district (there are 40 in Sonoma County), and each local and state land management district to appeal to the elected officials in charge and ask for a change. The changes are not required by law so they usually involves some degree of upfront cost and upfront faith. Many cities and schools have walked with us through these changes and the positive impacts to health, ecosystems, and our community's connection with nature are too numerous to count. Our Sonoma County community is clearly a special one.
This article will focus on highlighting some hyper-local issues that residents may be interested in getting involved with in the cities of Rohnert Park/Cotati, Windsor, Healdsburg, and Petaluma. If you are interested in becoming one of our community organizers, leaders or watchdogs please reach out to us at email@example.com
Rohnert Park/Cotati Schools
The City of Cotati made an official commitment in August 2019 to completely eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides at all city parks. Staff determined there would be no cost impacts to this decision and the council vote was unanimous. The city of Rohnert Park also made an unofficial decision in November 2020 to stop using synthetic pesticides at city parks. The decision was ultimately based on cost: staff determined that it would be cheaper to maintain their dozen+ community parks without chemicals. This is not an official policy of the city's Integrated Pest Management Plan, which still allows for using pesticides; however, in practice, parks in RP are currently pesticide-free.
The Cotati Rohnert Park Union School District, however, still relies on synthetic pesticides to maintain its 13 schools. In 2022 CRPUSD sprayed 2 toxic herbicides on all of its school properties during June and July. Dimension has a prop 65 cancer warning. Lifeline contains a glyphosate copycat (glufosinate) and may prove to be more toxic than its cousin. Lifeline has undergone very little safety testing and it is linked with seizures in children and bird deaths. It is good that the spraying appears to be limited to the summer months; however, students and teachers are still present during summer school and these pesticides are persistent. CRPUSD will re-evaluate it's Integrated Pest Management Plan in December 2023. Let us know if you are interested in joining a project to help CRPUSD find alternatives to chemical landscape maintenance (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also write to the CRPUSD School Board to ask them to reevaluate the district's decision to use synthetic pesticides:
Town of Windsor
The Town of Windsor made an unprecedented commitment to stop using synthetic pesticides on city-managed public properties in September 2018. Windsor's Integrated Pest Management Plan is the gold standard in our county. The IPMP does allow for emergency pesticide use, however, and one-time exemptions have been triggered a few times since 2018. However, in 2021 the town council agreed to a 5-year "emergency" exemption to allow the city to spray glyphosate (active ingredient in RoundUp) on city street medians. The "emergency" status was granted on the basis that several employees developed repetitive stress injuries while using weed whackers. Attempts were not made to use other modes of vegetation management such as grazing, or pollinator highway. Council also approved a study to look into using Isoxaben, a synthetic pesticide known to pose extreme harm aquatic life, on roadsides. As we have learned from our work with Caltrans' roadside spraying and Assembly Bill 99, roads are some of our most public spaces. Even though we might not put roads in the same category as a public park or trail, nobody can avoid them and many people use roads on a bike or on foot. It can be a disastrous situation when you encounter a pesticide spray operation while waiting for the bus on your way to work or school.
Windsor recently created some amazing educational videos including one that highlights the power of even small pollinator gardens. According to this Windsor video, even a 100-square foot garden can provide invaluable habitat for migrating butterflies and other native bees and pollinators. Imagine the potential if Windsor were to stop spraying median strips with glyphosate and instead turn street medians into valuable pollinator habitat!!
We are looking for community organizers and watchdogs to help the Town of Windsor find fun and creative solutions like these to their current landscape challenges. Send us an email (email@example.com if you are interested. The Windsor Town Council will review some of the "emergency" pesticide use exemptions in July 2023. Please email the Windsor Town Council to ask them to re-consider the emergency exemption that allows chemicals like glyphosate to be sprayed on Windsor's roads.
The City of Healdsburg has made a commitment to stop using synthetic pesticides on public property. Unfortunately, the Healdsburg Union School District (HUSD) continues to use synthetic pesticides on their properties, even during the school year. The Healdsburg Mom's group alerted us that HUSD sprayed ALL campuses in April and May 2023 with the synthetic herbicides Cheetah Pro and Diuron. Cheetah Pro contains glyphosate's new cousin glufosinate (if they sound the same it's because they are.) Glufosinate has undergone very little safety testing and is linked with seizures in children and bird deaths. Diuron contains Prop 65 chemicals that are known to the State of CA to cause cancer. Most school districts have in place policies that, in the least, keep Prop 65 chemicals off campus.
HUSD is looking to hire a new maintenance director but concerned parents believe the District should, in an abundance of caution, temporarily stop all synthetic pesticide use until a more formal policy can be established. In 2018, former Benicia Union School District maintenance worker Dewayne Lee Johnson won a landmark court case and $20.5 million after it was found that his terminal non-Hodgkins lymphoma was caused by his job, which included spraying pesticides on school campuses. It is concerning that HUSD is taking on the liability in allowing Prop 65 chemicals to be used on school campuses.
If you are interested in getting involved in this work by writing letters and/or speaking at school board meetings please let us know (firstname.lastname@example.org) In the meantime, you can write to the HUSD school board and ask them to consider creating a formal policy against using synthetic weedkillers for routine maintenance on their school campuses.
We've been working with the City of Petaluma for several years on creating a formal synthetic pesticide-free Integrated Pest Management Plan. While a formal IPMP is still in the works, the city does have an unofficial policy of not using synthetic weedkillers at parks for routine maintenance. The city is now rolling out an ambitious program that will use grazing at all city-owned wild open spaces to improve soil health, heal ecosystems, and keep weeds down for aesthetics and fire safety. We love grazing programs because they are naturally chemical-free vegetation management. Why spray something that a goat or sheep could eat for lunch? Petaluma will roll out its first grazing project in August 2023 and the team is looking for children (and child-like adults) to serve as educational docents to help teach the community about the science of grazing and why it's so important for Petaluma. If you are interested in participating please reach out to Sarah Keiser at email@example.com Three cheers for ruminants!
Goats helping us manage vegetation naturally without chemicals!
Community members in Windsor following the 2018 vote to adopt a synthetic pesticide free Integrated Pest Management Plan.