Arcata Pesticide Ordinance

Spring 2000

Arcata, a Northern California coastal town of 16,000 and home of Humboldt State University — a campus of 7,500 students — experimented with a ban on pesticides for fourteen years. Recently, the City of Arcata created an ordinance that officially eliminated the use of pesticides on all city properties.

“This first-of-its-kind ordinance confirms Arcata’s long time commitment to protect our residents from the effects of toxic pesticides,” said Jennifer Hanan, Arcata Vice Mayor. “Arcata is proving that pest problems can be solved without harming people or the environment. This surely will be a model for other cities that care about their community’s health and safety.”

Two decades ago, city residents became aware of the dangers posed by pesticides. A regional anti-pesticide organization based in town, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), acted as a resource center for supplying local residents with information about — and action strategies to stop — the toxic practices. Community involvement was achieved by organizing from door-to-door and through the local public radio station, which offered on-the-spot information about the location of city spray trucks.

“Arcata once sprayed herbicides on city streets, in its buildings and on trees and lawns in its parks,” said Patty Clary, Executive Director of CATs, which helped the city draft the new ordinance. “When residents realized how dangerous and unnecessary these pesticides are, they demanded change — and eventually they got it.”

By 1986, the city council was composed of an anti-pesticide majority and had received so much feedback about the city’s pesticide use that it created a citizen’s task force to search for non-toxic alternatives. CATs’ director was elected chairperson and many meetings were held with city staff to identify the problems that caused pesticide use. A task force cost analysis compared the use of pesticide application to manual vegetation removal and found that increased labor costs were balanced by decreased costs of purchasing, applying, reporting and storing of the pesticides. The first recommendation was that Arcata conduct small-scale tests of non-toxic methods to determine the most efficient and cost-effective solutions.

The City Council received the task force recommendations in May, 1986 and consequently declared a moratorium on the use of all pesticides on city properties. Staff was instructed to try out various options. Through the years, though at times reluctant, city staff adapted to the moratorium by finding new methods to control pests. Often they would devise entirely new ways to do the job because information couldn’t be found about established alternatives.

One of the biggest challenges was the city’s baseball lawn. Arcata maintains the ball field used by the highly popular semi-pro team, the Humboldt Crabs, who are known to sustain winning streaks of 40 or 50 games in a row. Fans wondered what the park staff would do to maintain this athletic field which — like other sports lawns everywhere — was the area most heavily treated by pesticides in town. Yet, the park’s staff created the first non-toxic professional baseball field in the United States, making it a true “field of dreams”. Their solutions included designing tarps to cover infield dirt to retard weed growth between games, purchasing special tools to remove weeds and undertaking immediate reseeding to fill gaps were weeds once grew.

According to Dan Diemer, Arcata’s Park Superintendent, “From a management perspective its actually easier to not use pesticides. The amount of training and paperwork that is required for pesticide use is intense.” He noted that cultural maintenance practices for grass — such as timely mowing and irrigation in addition to aeration and thatching — can be just as effective as pesticides.

Landscapers used plants more adapted to local weather conditions to avoid vulnerability to pest attack. On city streets, weeds sprouting in gutters were controlled by sealing cracks and performing regular street cleaning. For pests in and around buildings, barriers and consistent sanitation practices became the first line of defense. The new methods to manage pests became so routine that workers eventually forgot they were using alternatives to pesticides. Gradually the experiment begun with the moratorium became part of the regular routine.

Years later when CATs asked for a copy of the city’s pesticide ordinance, it was discovered that none had been established. The vice mayor’s request that the city council create an ordinance with the assistance of a working group was met with a resounding “yea”. The working group — consisting of city staff, the city attorney, the vice mayor and CATs’ executive director — was charged with drafting an ordinance that established the successful non-toxic practices as permanent city policy.

On February 16, 2000, the Arcata City Council approved by unanimous vote the ordinance which eliminates the use of pesticides on all properties owned or managed by the city. Arcata’s ordinance is unique among cities because it creates an outright ban on all pesticide use, rather than a phased reduction. The ordinance also directs city staff to create a pest control management plan which will be tied to the storm water discharge program to avoid polluting water during pest control activities. In addition, the pest control plan educates residents about non-toxic solutions. Pesticides are described to include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, nematicides, rodenticides, dessicants, defoliants and toxic cleaning agents used to kill pests.

The pest control plan will be completed in late 2000 and will establish all permissible pest control materials and methods, including preventative measures. A methodology will be created to educate the general public and private property owners about these alternatives in Arcata, and its format will make it useful for pest managers in other cities.


Related: City of Arcata, Ordinance No. 1300



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