Maybe the Kids Should Not Eat the Grass Next Year at Davis City Parks

By Alan Pryor

City Axes Integrated Pest Management Specialist Position at Parks and Recreation –

Central_ParkOne little noticed casualty buried in the City’s recent budget-cutting-frenzy was the complete elimination of funding for the Park and Recreation Department’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist position through Tier 1 General Fund cuts. Integrated Pest Management is the agricultural and municipal buzzword for efforts to eliminate the use of toxic environmentally-persistent pesticides and herbicides and replace them with less harmful alternatives. The responsibility for implementing the IPM Program in Davis has been held by the City’s Integrated Pest Management Specialist, Martin Guerena. Mr. Guerena is an alumnus of both UC Davis and Cal Poly and has held the position at Davis since 2007.

In the case of the City’s Parks and Recreation program, IPM means eliminating the use of herbicides to the extent possible through the alternative use of weed-smothering mulch or using ground cover plants to squeeze out the invasive weeds – or, as a last resort, using herbicides that are less harmful to humans and the environment. It also means using innovative alternatives to spraying with highly toxic pesticides for insect, fungi, and bacterial plant pathogens.

The role of the IPM specialist in Davis was greatly expanded beyond the conventional definition, though, once Mr. Guerena was hired, to include collaboration with UC Davis researchers to study the effectiveness of less-toxic herbicides on city land, wildlife habitat, aquatic weed management and the biological control of the elm leaf beetle on city land. Martin Guerena also implemented alternative pest control and fertilization trials in parks and greenbelts using solarization and flame weeding and biological controls in turf management.

Mr. Guerena also initiated and implemented many innovative outreach strategies including distributing pest control information via the City’s web site, posters, handouts, signs, and press releases through community-access television, at booths at the Farmers Market and City festivals, and at volunteer training sessions. Field days were often provided to groups of park upkeep volunteers and gardeners demonstrating benign horticultural practices. Mr. Guerena also authored a delightfully written and professionally illustrated educational comic book on IPM control strategies that has received numerous professional accolades for its straight forward message and the approach to providing this important information to homeowners and school children.

Because of the visibility of these outreach programs, Davis’ IPM program is one of the City programs that has enjoyed very broad community support at comparatively very little cost to the City. It is recognized as one of the most progressive and effective IPM programs in the state, and it has received various kudos and awards from other organizations for its innovative work. For instance, the City received the State Department of Pesticide Regulations’ prestigious Annual Innovator Award in 2009 for Mr. Guerena’s pioneering work.

While I do not know Mr. Guerena in a social capacity, I have seen the results of his professional work in our local parks and have quantitatively evaluated its effectiveness through the review of the Annual IPM Report submitted in past years to the City and reviewed by the Natural Resources Commission. In 2008, I criticized the report then delivered by Mr. Guerena before the NRC even though it showed dramatic reductions in Class I and other pesticide usage. My criticism was based on the fact that no quantitative goals were given for further reductions in pesticide usage in the City for the following year. I suggested that the lack of these specific goals indicated that the IPM specialist was willing to rest on his laurels and not push the envelope further. Mr. Guerena very calmly stated that was not at all his intention and he had every expectation of decreasing pesticide usage much more and not to be dissuaded by the modest projections implied in committee-derived language in the IPM report . When the next Annual IPM report came out again the following year, I had to publicly acknowledge that my fears were completely unfounded and that even greater reductions in pesticide usage were achieved than in the preceding year. In short, he did what he said he was going to do, Wow!

I have been involved part-time in organic agriculture as a grower and researcher for over 25 years and I fully understand the difficulties in substantially eliminating the use of conventional pesticides which task is made even more difficult by the competing interests in an urban environment. As a result, I was even more impressed by Mr. Guerena’s achievements and I became a supporter of what he was trying and how he was going about doing it.

That Mr. Guerena was able to achieve so much in such a short tenure in Davis is pretty remarkable in my opinion. Those familiar with my writings know that I am not generally a staunch supporter of City Staff and believe that many aspects of the City’s environmentally progressive reputation are overblown and self-promoting. That said, I truly believe that Mr. Guerena cares as much or more about his mission here than almost any other citizen. By any definition, he is a keeper for the City and we can ill afford to lose this expertise, particularly as new information has emerged about the toxicity and carcinogenicity of one of the City’s most widely used herbicides as further discussed below.

According to the Manager of Parks and Recreation and Mr. Guerena’s supervisor, Jim Newman, Mr. Guerena’s position was initially only recommended to be eliminated as a Tier 3 cut which means his termination presumably would have avoided the Tier 1 and Tier 2 budget cuts incorporated as part of the current round of reductions. It is not clear who made the final recommendation to make this position a priority cut now instead of putting it on the chopping block later. Clearly, though, it was not done by a person experienced with the hazards of pesticide exposure or such a determination to lay-off Mr. Guerena would never have been made.

Nor do I recall ever hearing a discussion about this particular cut in any of the Council’s budget discussions (although it was included as a line item in later versions of the proposed budget). This is unfortunate. Had the merits of the program been fully shared with the Council and the public been made specifically aware of what this means in terms of the City’s use of harmful pesticides and exposure to our citizens, I do not believe this decision would have been made.

Mr. Guerena’s role and expertise is even more critical now given the recent release of reports about the toxicity and dangers of one of the City’s most commonly used herbicides – a product called Round-Up. Round-Up is made by that friendly and nature-loving company, Monsanto (infamous only for all of its genetically modified crops and organisms and usurious treatment of farmers whose crops are contaminated with their GMO products.) Monsanto has always marketed Round-Up as an environmentally-friendly product to the extent that its promoters in the industry claim it is “as safe as table salt”. However, I assume that the mounting evidence of the toxicity and potential carcinogenicity of Round-Up means that none of these promoters will likely be adding it to their wives’ or kids’ popcorn any time soon.

Round-Up is made of isopropylamine salt of glyphosate, related organic acids of glyphosate, and polyoxalated surfactants. Similar Monsanto surfactants are often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and one researcher found such a Monsanto product contaminated at a level of 350 parts per million! 1,4-dioxane, one of the ingredients of Agent Orange, is a proven human carcinogen and is known to damage the liver, kidney, brain and lungs of humans.

Other more recent studies also cast serious doubt as to the long term safety of Round-Up. For instance, a recent study of the supposed “inert” ingredients of Roundup was published in Environmental Health Perspectives and reported glyphosate toxicity to human placental cells within hours of exposure, at levels ten times lower than those found in agricultural use. The researchers also tested glyphosate and Round-Up at lower concentrations for effects on sexual hormones and reported adverse effects at very low levels. This suggests that dilution with other ingredients in Round-Up may, in fact, facilitate glyphosate’s hormonal impacts.

Further, an international team of highly respected scientists has just released a stunning report in June entitled, Roundup and Birth Defects (, disclosing that Monsanto and industry regulators have known for decades that Round-Up causes birth defects in laboratory animals but suppressed and/or withheld those studies from public regulators and scientific scrutiny.

Given this newfound evidence attesting to the hazards of long term exposure to Round-Up to pregnant women and fetuses and the City’s absolute reliance on it for weed control, albeit reduced during Mr. Guerena’s tenure, elimination of the use of Round-Up must be a priority of the City if they are serious about continuing to create safe, pesticide-free zones in our City parks. Although use of Round-Up in the City has been greatly reduced as a result of the persistence and research of Mr. Guerena, it does not take any imagination to see this trend reversed if the City does not have a strong IPM advocate on staff. And citizen oversight will be even more difficult then because the Annual IPM reports on the City’s pesticide use are apparently no longer being routinely provided because of budgetary pressures. Thus, it is all the more critical that a true IPM specialist be retained on Parks and Recreation’s staff

And Round-Up is just the tip of the toxic iceberg of pesticides previously used extensively throughout the City and now functionally eliminated through an aggressive IPM program instituted by Mr. Guerena.

For instance, use of the neonicitinoid pesticide imidacloprid, well known for it toxicity to honeybees (and a strong suspect in honeybee colony collapse disorder), has almost been completely eliminated in the City in past years. Metam sodium, a proven carcinogen widely used but stringently regulated in agricultural soil fumigation, was routinely used in the city sewers for derooting by simply pouring it down manhole covers. This usage was not being reported for years by Public Works until discovered by Mr. Guerena who strongly advised against its continued use because of the hazards to workers and the public.

Mr. Guerena also serves as a huge resource to the entire community through his outreach to community and gardening groups. Additionally, one of the City’s leading landscape contractors, GP Landscape, has actually incorporated methods suggested to them by Mr. Guerena into a “green” landscaping service now offered to apartment houses and commercial entities around the City. This would have never happened without Martin Guerena’s devotion to his task of keeping our City as free from pesticides as possible. Plus, he is a long term resident in the City providing further incentive to him to provide safe and healthful parks.

Finally, eliminating the IPM program sends a terrible message to the Staff of Parks and Recreation, indeed to the entire City, that pesticide management and environmental sustainability are not a priority of the Council. It would be a shame if the progress made by citizen activism over the many years in Davis that finally resulted in the hire of a person of Mr. Guerena’s caliber were lost in the ill-planned frenzy of budget-cutting. In my opinion, you could lose almost any department head or supervisor in the City and it would have less of an impact of our health and safety of our parks than if Mr. Guerena’s position is terminated.

Citizens worried about pesticide exposure in our parks, particularly to pregnant women and children, should contact our Councilmembers and express their concern about this ill-considered budget-cutting move.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. biddlin

    Have you ever heard the term “budget scalpel” ? It is faster, easier and a better visual to use the “axe” . Surgical excisions take hours . A good decapitation is over in seconds, and attracts larger crowds .

  2. SODA

    Not to disagree with the article but to suggest the city may wish to partner with ZzUCD to outdoorsy some of the supervisory work which will be list by losing this employee. It would seem that Davis would be an ideal “lab” for graduate students, etc to gain valuable experience. This is the kind if new thinking that we will need to do in this era of budget cuts rather than throw up our hands and say, services cut or eliminated because employees cut.
    Sorry if typis but micro on iPhone.

  3. JustSaying

    Nice to read this testimonial about one of the city staff members. Too bad this job is considered “nice to have” instead of a higher rating. I also like SODA’s suggestion, whether or not we’re able to keep Mr. Guerena’s position. Wonder if the city has an active intern program to take advantage of UCD’s student population?

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