Richmond has learned there are trade-offs to banning all pesticide-use in weed abatement activities on city properties.
One year after Richmond City Council installed the ban, sparing the community from exposure to the widely-used herbicide glyphosate, city groundskeepers say they are struggling to keep up with ever-sprouting weeds in public spaces.
Public Works Director Yader presented images at Tuesday’s council meeting of overgrown public right-of-ways no longer controlled by pesticides. The city is also having a difficult time tending to youth sports fields ahead of the summer season, Yader said, adding that at least four additional groundskeepers are needed to make up for what the use of pesticides can accomplish.
And while the groundskeepers don’t have to breathe in potentially cancer-causing chemicals, Yader added, they suffer from back problems from pulling weeds and have to spend more time working amid dangerous traffic.
Despite the hardships, the majority on City Council did not appear intent on reinstating pesticide use. They cite emerging research on glyphosate, such as a finding last year by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The finding was vehemently disputed by industry leaders. The issue on whether glyphosate causes cancer is currently being debated in Europe, where the European Union must decide whether to continue to extend the approval of its use.
Councilmember Nat Bates believes the city should bring pesticides back, saying the city is beginning to look shabby, which creates a lower quality of life for residents. He added that he doesn’t believe Richmond, which is trying to close an $8 million budget deficit, can afford to pioneer the issue. Richmond is one of only a few jurisdictions in California to have implemented a ban, according to city staff.
However, Mayor Tom Butt, along with members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance on council — Gayle Mclaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez — expressed support for continuing the pesticides ban. They say the community’s health should take priority over the city’s ability to keep up with landscaping.
“I am certain that our county public health department will concur as they have already that this glyphosate is not healthy for our communities,” Mclaughlin said. “When it comes to how we want our city to look, we have to put public health first and foremost.”
No actions were taken at Tuesday’s council meeting on the issue. However, council and staff seemed keen on identifying solutions to weed abatement that won’t require hiring additional groundskeepers, including mulching, limited burning, goat herds and other methods.