In 2013, Caltrans pledged to discontinue herbicide use on its Topanga Canyon Boulevard right-of-way as part of the Topanga Canyon Boulevard Partners Project. Now, the Malibu City Council has committed to follow Topanga’s example and work with Caltrans and Southern California Edison to eliminate pesticides from Pacific Coast Highway.
The announcement was made at the end of the June 27 Malibu City Council meeting, where the council unanimously agreed to eliminate pesticide use on all city property, including the coastal community’s five municipal parks—Las Flores Canyon Park, Legacy Park, Malibu Bluffs Park, Trancas Canyon Park, and the Malibu Equestrian Center, as well as city hall and city-owned road right-of-ways.
It’s being described as a landmark decision and it is a rare Malibu issue that has received near universal support in the community. At the June 27 meeting, not a single speaker or council member was opposed to the ban and an auditorium full of citizens stayed to speak to the issue, despite the fact that it was the last item on a full agenda and the final speakers had to wait until almost midnight for a chance to testify.
The City of Malibu banned the use of anticoagulant rodenticides on city property in 2014, but activists like Poison Free Malibu co-founder Kian Schulman continued to work toward expanding the ban to eliminate all pesticides.
“We worked to develop an Integrated Pest Management policy with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in 2013,” Schulman told the Topanga Messenger.
Although anticoagulant rodenticides were discontinued, the plan still relied heavily on commercial herbicides.
According to the staff report that accompanied the agenda, the City of Malibu has used four types of herbicides between July 2014 and June 2016: Roundup, SpeedZone, Dimension and Fusilade. A highly toxic gas-based rodenticide called Fumitoxin was on the city’s list of approved pesticides, but has not been used in the past five years.
At the meeting, pathobiologist Steven Frantz presented a damning indictment of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, the most widely used herbicide on the city’s list.
According to Franz, there are no safe levels for the use of the chemical and an ever-growing body of data indicates that its impact on living organisms begins on the molecular level.
“There is an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans and animals,” he said. “It needs to be banned internationally.”
The Malibu Parks and Recreation Commission recommended that the city experiment with eliminating pesticides from the three least-used parks, before banning the chemicals at Bluffs Park and Trancas Canyon Park.
“The recommendation was to ultimately start with those three, with eliminating pesticide use at all five parks as the ultimate goal,” Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Carl Randall told the council, explaining that there were “problems and concerns with the other parks.”
“I think it’s our job to go farther,” Councilmember Skylar Peak responded. “I think it’s our responsibility. We shouldn’t be using these in our parks. We need to stop the experiments on our pets, on our children,” Peak said. “I think we need to ban the use on all city property, at City Hall, on our roads, and we should implore Southern California Edison to stop using their herbicide cocktail around their power poles in our community.”
Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal agreed. “I think [pesticides] are evil,” she said. “We need to get rid of them. I don’t want any pesticides in any park.
“We are done with this experiment. I don’t want to ever use it again.” She added that the city should also reach out to Caltrans to begin a dialogue on eliminating herbicides from Pacific Coast Highway.
Councilmember John Sibert, who was on the original ad hoc committee selected to investigate the rodenticide ban, quoted pioneer ecologist Barry Commoner at the meeting. “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere,” he said.
Pesticide use by the transportation agency and the utility company has been a concern in the Malibu community for several years. In 2010, former Malibu Mayor Jefferson Wagner told the Malibu Surfside News that Edison has the authority to maintain a 10-foot radius around each power pole with the use of herbicides and that Caltrans uses herbicides to clear between five and ten feet of right-of-way along Pacific Coast Highway. With approximately 23 miles of highway in Malibu and hundreds of power poles, that adds up to a potentially significant impact.
In Topanga, runoff from pesticide use had the potential to impact environmentally sensitive riparian habitat. In many parts of Malibu, Caltrans and Edison herbicide use takes place feet from the ocean.
Carrie Carrier, the Chair of the Topanga Creek Watershed Committee and an outspoken anti-herbicide activist, spoke during public comment at the meeting to encourage the Malibu City Council to adopt a poison-free policy.
“One of our recent achievements was helping to broker an agreement with Caltrans to maintain roadside vegetation without toxic herbicides,” Carrier said. “Our group strongly opposes the use of pesticides in our watersheds and public spaces because it exposes people and animals to persistent poisons without their informed consent.”
The council directed city staff to bring back an Earth Friendly Management policy that uses organic, natural materials to maintain the parks and city property. Part of that policy will include an Earth Friendly Management Advisory Committee comprised of experts who can make recommendations to the Parks and Recreation Department.
“What concerns me is that we are talking about experts who know what they are talking about, not political appointments,” Councilmember Lou La Monte said.
The council also agreed to reach out to Caltrans and the other agencies that operate in the area. The Topanga-Caltrans collaboration involves a Best Management Practices plan and a joint work plan that were developed after residents discovered that the transportation agency was using herbicides along Topanga Canyon Blvd despite a 2002 agreement that prohibited herbicide use. The Topanga Creek Watershed Management Plan developed to address the issue is described as a living document.
It’s anticipated that the City of Malibu will be required to develop a similar agreement with the state agency.
Carrier told the Topanga Messenger that she is optimistic about the prospect of Malibu working with Caltrans.
“I think that much can be gleaned from the model we developed with Caltrans, such as the criteria we used for selecting our plant palette, the opportunity for community participation in the plan’s vetting and implementation process, as well as the development of a community demonstration garden to showcase the pride that we take in our public spaces,” Carrier said.
“Both Topanga and Malibu have committed to nontoxic, sustainable landscaping practices for a host of environmental and health reasons that are too often overlooked or discounted in policy decisions. Our own cost-benefit analysis shows that we can affordably and organically manage our landscapes while also protecting all our creatures, big and small,” she said.
“I definitely think we could replicate exactly what they’ve done in Topanga,” Schulman said after the meeting. “It’s a beautiful example. I am totally overwhelmed with the unanimous decision of the City Council to ban pesticide use in Malibu. They are all superheroes to stand up to the Goliath pest control industry.”
One thing that’s still out of reach for Malibu activists is a citywide ban on pesticides.
The municipality has been reluctant to adopt the pesticide ban that is part of the Local Coastal Program for Topanga and the rest of unincorporated Los Angeles County in the Santa Monica Mountains, despite assurances from County and Coastal Commission staff that the coastal agency has the authority to override the State Agricultural Commission within the Coastal Zone.
The Malibu City Attorney has referred the issue to the California Attorney General for comment.
Schulman said she is confident that the LCP amendment will be passed. “It’s our next goal,” she said, adding that she is also working with state legislators to push for a statewide ban on anticoagulant rodenticides.
“What the Malibu City Council has done is tremendous,” Schulman said. “They stood up to the chemical companies and said we don’t want our children to be experimented on. Malibu is leading by example.”
Malibu city staff will now act on the council’s recommendations and bring back a final draft of the new Earth Friendly Management program for the council to vote on later this summer.
More information is available online at www.malibucity.org.