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    South Laguna residents push city to stop using Roundup on trails, neighborhood streets
    • October 20, 2023

    It was an unusual view above her South Laguna Beach home as Jinger Wallace sipped her morning coffee.

    It was late February and six or seven men dressed in white suits, some carrying packs with a liquid, were spraying on the hillside just about 100 feet above. Thinking something “wasn’t right,” Wallace, wearing flip-flops, climbed up and asked what they were doing.

    They were spraying, she learned, to get rid of invasive plants as part of the city’s efforts to safeguard against fire risk.

    That put Wallace on a mission to convince city officials to eradicate the use of the weedkiller Roundup, which she worries is toxic to residents and the environment.

    Roundup contains the herbicide glyphosate; it was developed decades ago by Monsanto, which was bought in 2018 by Bayer. Glyphosate is classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says its findings are the herbicide is not likely carcinogenic to humans when used as directed. Debate and legal challenges have gone on for years.

    Bayer has said it would replace glyphosate in Roundup for residential use beginning in 2023.

    “Bayer stands fully behind our glyphosate-based products, which have been used safely and successfully around the world for 50 years,” said Kyel Richard, a company spokesperson, in a statement.

    “Leading health regulators around the world have repeatedly concluded that our glyphosate-based products can be used safely as directed,” Richard said. “Glyphosate-based herbicides are among the most thoroughly studied products of their kind, which is a major reason why farmers and others around the world continue to rely on these products to control problematic weeds.”

    Roundup has been used for years by the city, said Mayor Bob Whalen, more recently in South Laguna starting in January. The effort is part of a wide-ranging fire management plan rolled out by the city starting in 2019 with blessings from the California Coastal Commission.

    The city contracts with Nature’s Image Inc. to conduct the spraying for the fuel modification efforts and with the Laguna Canyon Foundation to monitor that environmentally sensitive animals and plants are protected – for example its biologists flagged the Big-Leaved Crownbeard and Coulter’s Matilija Poppy, considered threatened in the state, to be avoided. Around them, any weed removal was done by hand, said Jacky Cordero, interim executive director of the foundation.

    Hand crews and goats also help eliminate unwanted vegetation to curb fire hazards.

    Wallace and others in South Laguna concerned by spraying seen along hillsides, community streets and popular trail areas met with foundation and city officials in February and April, urging the spray be stopped.

    “They wanted to assure us that spraying the Roundup is fine and that they had permits to do it,” Wallace said. “Lots of people came.”

    But the residents left feeling they weren’t getting their message across, Wallace said. “We felt endangered and we wanted it stopped.”

    Ramin Pejan, who also lives nearby and is a senior attorney for Earth Justice, said he noticed the crews out along the Valido Trail, a popular neighborhood hiking path that leads to a lookout on Aliso Peak and to other trails managed by OC Parks. He said there had been no signage telling people about the spraying.

    “The day before they were spraying, we were literally eating sour grass — an edible plant,” he said of an outing with his children. “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have known.”

    He said that city and foundation officials agreed during the meeting with the community that “they messed up with the noticing.” Also it was discovered the city had not gotten the necessary permits from OC Parks, according to a recent report from the California Environmental Protection Agency in response to complaints filed.

    Wallace, Pejan and a handful of other residents have since gathered signatures on a petition demanding the “adoption of alternative, non-toxic methods for weed control on public land.” More than 1,100 people have signed online at and 350 signed in person.

    “It’s hard to find people who don’t know about Roundup,” Wallace said. “Ninety percent of the people we asked said, ‘Roundup, let me sign.’”

    “People in South Laguna love the environment and look at the hillsides and realize the precious habitat that surrounds us.”

    Recently, the concerned residents presented their information to a meeting of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, which voted to recommend to the City Council that it ban all chemical pesticides, rodenticides and herbicides citywide.

    The city of Irvine banned the use of Roundup in 2017.

    In 2020, the Laguna Beach council banned the use of anticoagulant pesticides – they cause rodents to bleed internally – on all city properties. 

    Committee member Judie Mancuso said the city of Malibu’s Earth Friendly Management Policy would be a great guideline for the city to use in developing its own policies for using alternatives to chemical products. Mancuso was instrumental with former Councilmember Steve Dicterow on the anticoagulant ban and has history with successfully championing legislation to protect animals.

    “We are losing species like we’ve never lost them before,” Mancuso said. “Land mammals, birds, marine mammals. You think you’re killing plants, but it kills everything in the food chain and it causes cancer.”

    “People have to do something at the local level,” she said. “We can’t wait to make it national and global.”

    Since the residents’ uproar earlier this year, the Fire Department has improved its public notification process, Whalen said. “They’re giving property owners adjacent to the trail the right to opt-out and say, ‘We don’t want anything sprayed on our property.’”

    And, Whalen said though the council has been told the spraying is the best option for fuel modification, “that’s not to say there aren’t alternatives.”

    “Clearly, there is a lot to discuss,” Whalen said.

    Jeremy Frimond, assistant to the city manager, said the residents’ concern “has the staff’s full attention” and that the discussion has a clear timeline to get to the council. The next scheduled spraying is in January.

    “Let’s look at it and make sure each community is comfortable with it,” he said, adding that the chemical is only sprayed in specific locations in a targeted application. “Some people in some neighborhoods are more comfortable with it. South Laguna’s message, ‘We’re not comfortable,’ is received. We’re not dismissing their concerns.”

    “We’re trying to evolve and go to the next steps,” he said.

    Pejan said he hopes the concerned residents can convince the council to act before more spraying is done.

    He points out Bayer had settled more than 100,000 claims for around $11 billion by May 2022.

    “If it’s 100% safe,” why the big judgements, he said. “When you make decisions, you should be rather safe than sorry. If there is an alternative, you should use it.”

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    ​ Orange County Register