Park Department: An Apparent and Sneaky About-Face on Neighborhood Efforts to Care for Parks

By Paul Steinberg

On the 22nd of February signs were again posted at Slide Hill Park announcing to residents that herbicides were to be sprayed and giving the very limited, yet apparently compliant, 24-hour notice.  The anger, disbelief and dismay of local park residents was expressed in emails, calls and conversations amongst us.

Why, you may ask.

Late last year, similar signs were posted in the park announcing the intent to spray.  Slide Hill park is constantly used by families with small children, there is a dog park area, by students playing in the fields, the courts, pool… it’s a well-used park.  As a resident living against the park, I contacted the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Specialist named on the signs and voiced my dismay.  Not only were the “weeds” not poisonous or in any way presenting a danger, but the notice period was unacceptably short. To his credit, Martin Guerena the IPM specialist, listened to my concerns, we spoke a few times after that and he informed me that the Parks department had agreed to “hold off” for a few days as we residents rallied and organized to manually remove the weeds and apply mulch.  Martin Guerena’s office loaned tools to assist us.

In the heat of those summer days a number of residents turned out and we got the job done! The story doesn’t end there…..

Sometime later, as the initiator and organizer of the neighborhood effort, I was invited to present at a Town Council meeting at which pesticide and herbicide applications in Davis were the topic of discussion.   The meeting was very well attended with many speaking and the overall mood was clearly minimizing and ceasing harmful chemical use in and around Davis.

I presented what we did in Slide Hill Park, why we did it and the camaraderie that resulted from neighbors doing what we do best – cooperate, work together and enjoy meeting people you may live beside but otherwise don’t know.  Additionally, a number of residents in other areas in Davis expressed their willingness to adopt this idea for their local parks.  What better measure of success could one have!

I was thanked and applauded for rallying our local neighbors, including my kids and other children who turned up, and who did an admirable job.

So, when on the February 22nd the city – with NO forewarning or attempt to even contact any of us – posted these signs, we were angry, I was embarrassed at this given all that we’d done in the months before.

On February 23rd I walked into the park to see a city worker, in full protective gear, spraying near the pool.  I approached him, he immediately stopped, handed me a business card and said for me “to call his boss”.  I asked him why he had on protective clothing and gloves.  He responded saying that it was to protect him because he was applying chemicals.  He said his management had apparently all done a walk-through that morning and they had “approved the spraying”.  I immediately called the name on the card: Martin Jones, now Superintendent of Parks & General Services.  (Note, he had already received my email copied here below).

The conversation was quite a long one, however the salient points were:

  • I asked why on earth his office had made no effort to contact me or other neighbors involved in the effort described above to at least give us an opportunity to repeat it. Jones had no coherent answer to this but stated that he was not aware of the spraying plan until a day before the signs were posted.  I was stunned to hear that as he did state too that the business card I was holding and had the title of “Manager” was out of date, he was now “Superintendent” – I fact I pointed out made his claim of not knowing of every project in the parks and Davis even less acceptable to me.
  • I made it clear that I personally had as recently as a week before, spoken with the IPM specialist, Mr. Guerena, who again loaned us tools, and we spoke of the fact that we were waiting for the rains break so we could go back and re-do the work. Guerena was in complete support of this idea and our intent to repeat the effort.  It was clear to me that Mr. Guerena was not the person initiating or approving these spraying efforts given that we’d met in the park just days before and discussed this.
  • While speaking to Mr. Jones, I was standing next to the sand pit. There were 2 small children and two adults (looked like grandparents).  They over heard me asking Mr. Jones how on earth can it be ok to spray chemicals in the park that kids can play near to or in, but his employee needs to be fully covered to apply for his safety! Not surprisingly, the answer was shrouded in OSHA rules.  Incidentally, the adults then seeing the man spraying, overhearing my conversation, swiftly packed the kids up and left the park!

There was more spoken of, none of which provided me with any coherent explanation as to why the department headed by Martin Jones had made an apparently sneaky about-face following the effort months back and the presentation I was invited to deliver at the Town Council meeting – at which Mr. Jones reminded me he was present!

To his credit, I received an email from Mr. Jones later that day (copy below) letting me know that he had “instructed staff to cease spraying at the park temporarily”.  Concerning to note that he states “temporarily”.  He stated that workers were to “manually” remove the weeds instead – just as we had, and successfully so, months earlier!

For me, many questions are left unanswered.  But I am left with a great film-line that, when answered, so often exposes the truth: “Follow the money” ….

Paul Steinberg

Slide Hill Park Resident

Initial Email to City of Davis:

Date: 2-23-2017


I was STUNNED to see signs yesterday in Slide Hill Park stating that there was to application of Roundup and Scythe in the park TODAY. 

As I certainly assume you are aware, some months ago I was cordially invited to present at the town council meeting about herbicide and pesticide application in Davis and on our neighborhood effort to manually remove weeds, an effort that I had initiated and with the cooperation of Martin Guerena.  We did an admirable job and this was not only praised by all, but other areas of Davis asked about replication of this in their area parks.

Since then, of course things grow back.  I have been in regular contact with your parks department, namely Martin Guerena, about repeating the last effort but waiting on the rains end to start this.  His response has been nothing but positive as to our intentions and efforts.

I am stunned, shocked and frankly embarrassed (given my presentation by invitation of your department) that your department has posted these signs without even the contacting me or other residents ahead of this.  You know full well of our opposition to such application, especially of Roundup.

Some months ago you were applauding our efforts and inviting me to present our neighborhood effort.  Now you go behind our backs, totally ignore all of that sentiment and again engage in a campaign of poisoning the park, and unnecessarily so. I have received NUMEROUS emails expressing anger and concern and enquiries from local residents who knew of the last effort we undertook and learned of the invitation to me to present at the local town meeting. 

The obvious question: What on earth was that all about if your department has completely rescinded on the undertaking to support local efforts?

THIS SPRAYING MUST NOT GO FORWARD! I look forward to a response from your department.



Paul Steinberg

Reply from Martin Jones

Date: 23 February, 2017

Mr. Steinberg,

I am sending you this update to our earlier conversation regarding the herbicide spraying at Slide Hill Park.  After further consideration, I instructed staff to cease spraying at the park temporarily.  On Monday February 27, 2017 our farm crew will be at Slide Park to manually remove all weeds throughout the planting areas, picnic and play areas, no chemicals will be applied during this time, only hand labor and flame torches will be utilized.  I will be out of the office tomorrow and returning the following Monday, if you have questions during that time please feel free to send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Best Regards

Martin G. Jones

Superintendent, Parks & General Services

City of Davis Parks & Urban Forestry Division

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Don Shor

    Protective gear is standard whenever a pest control applicator is applying any material. The disposable suits are simplest to issue and they don’t actually tell you anything about the relative toxicity of what is being applied.

    The city has shifted to using more Scythe in order to reduce the use of glyphosate. It is an organic herbicide made from pelargonic acid, designed to provide quick “burn down” of the weeds while the lower-dosage of glyphosate then kills the roots. I believe it has largely been implemented at the recommendation of the city’s IPM specialist. But it’s important to note that Scythe is actually more hazardous to the applicator than glyphosate is, because it can cause skin and eye irritation. Once it has dried on the leaves, it is not a hazard. Glyphosate only has a Caution label, while Scythe has a Warning label (those are the signal words that tell  you the relative hazard of the material, and the ascend in order: Caution, Warning, Danger).

    Obviously it would be great if the city can count on volunteer work crews to remove annual weeds. That would allow them to minimize the use of herbicides even more than they’ve already done. Right now is a good time to get annual weeds mowed, pulled, and mulched before they go to seed.

    About Scythe:

    1. Paul Steinberg


      I appreciate your comment.  My description on protective gear being worn was to highlight the fact that while the applicator of the chemical needs protection, the public passing by at the time of application, kids, dogs et al are not protected.  That chemical applicator he was using spews airborne material. I appreciate your comments on relative toxicity, but nevertheless its a) toxic and b) unnecessary – that’s the key point I was trying to make!

      With respect to “volunteer crews” – that’s exactly what we did as residents! What irked me and others in this instance is that we were not even afforded that opportunity (again), were not consulted, that the earlier successful effort of residents was ignored…. and we don’t know what on earth is behind that…. I still don’t…. but something tells me there is more behind that we don’t (yet) know.

      1. Don Shor

        I would bet that an informal committee could be formed that allows quick email communication between some designated volunteer citizens, the IPM coordinator, and the parks supervisor, with one council member cc’ed. That way the city could count on volunteers where they need them. March – April is prime weed removal time.

  2. Cayce Wallace

    It would be wonderful if given the chance for the city to support volunteers and community involvement on all levels. We should welcome and support our citizens who are vested in the wellness of the people, our environment and the community itself through volunteering  because this is what makes wonderful neighborhoods and a city great to live in.

    We know that many people roll their eyes with the next “idea” brought forth outside of the standard daily operations because it messes with the system but when it means NOT doing something that causes harm can we jump on board please? If there needs to be some support with timelines such as, weeding needs to take place on these months by the volunteers can we just set that up? What a brilliant way to support each other and come together as neighbors to reduce the use of poison.

    Are there not work orders for our parks? I know we have farmed out the landscaping to a nonlocal company which I find weird in itself…. but should there be a nice neat calendar with work orders scheduled so we know what is happening when? I cannot imagine every 24 hours is a surprise in the parks department.

    our farm crew will be at Slide Park to manually remove all weeds throughout the planting areas, picnic and play areas, no chemicals will be applied during this time, only hand labor and flame torches will be utilized. “

    Who is our farm crew and why not just have them always do as stated above?

    Thank you Mr. Paul Steinberg for your work on this very important topic and for rallying the troops to make a healthier world for our citizens, pets and wildlife.

    Cayce Wallace

    1. Paul Steinberg

      Thanks Cayce,

      I know how much you (and so many others) value access to parks and sidewalks in Davis that are safe for our children, our pets and ourselves from the damaging cumulative effect that pesticides and herbicides no doubt have on all around us.  If there is a way to avoid these, why on earth not pursue it?  Using the excuses of cost, time, labor are just not good enough when there exist other ways to deal with what we choose to define as “weeds”.

      Paul Steinberg

  3. Alan Miller

    As an aside re:  weeds & spraying, for those of us who live along the railroad tracks, the Union Pacific at least once a year runs a ‘weed sprayer’ train along the tracks to keep the right-of-way clear of vegetation.  Essentially a tank with a long spray boom.

    You may notice nothing grows along the tracks.  Rumor is that the herbicide is a “ground sterilizer”.  I doubt there is anything citizens along the tracks can do to be informed or protest.

    I have wondered the effects on my garden, plants and animals.  However, the ground-squirrel population remains abundant, and my last cat lived to be over 20.   I wonder if for farms along the tracks, organic certification could be an issue?

    1. Don Shor
      Effects on your garden would depend on drift at the time of application. They spray pretty much straight down. Most won’t move from the application site to your garden other than through drift.
      If I were guessing based on prevalent weeds here, I’d say likely glyphosate, 2,4-D, and triclopyr, plus pre-emergents in fall and spring.

      1. Alan Miller

        I’ve heard it might be Spike, but no way to confirm that.  They do have rules about wind.  But I’ve medium-scale herbicide applications, and been around others doing it, and application is, with all the regs, at best a bit of a trust art.

  4. Dave Hart

    It’s just plain sad that the city would plow ahead with this when they know it is an issue that the neighbors care about AND they have a contact person AND they don’t bother to make a phone call.  It’s clumsy, it’s lazy and it’s inept.  If they call Paul Steinberg and he says he’ll have volunteers out there, why not utilize them.  If they call Paul Steinberg and he says he’s not ready and needs a few days, I would understand their operational need to move ahead.  But they didn’t even bother.  As a famous super salesman likes to say, “Sad!”

    1. Paul Steinberg


      Thanks for your comment.  You are spot on – not even an attempt to call/email/drop a note under my door…. I live on the park’s edge!!I’d like to agree with your comment – “clumsy, lazy and it’s inept” but I fear that something more sinister is at play….. As I said in my article… for the REAL answers, “follow the money”.

      Scarily and equally disgusting, I read on Nextdoor that yesterday – in spite of my article and Martin Jones’ agreement to hold off at Slide Hill – they posted signs at Mace Park of intent to spray there!!! I remember at the meeting in December, someone from Mace asked about replicating what we’d done in Slide Hill because they too didn’t want spraying…. Its like wack-a-mole… you knock it down in one area and it pops up elsewhere… (pardon the old-school electronic games reference 🙂

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