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GRANOLAPARK: Diddlysquat

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GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

So, what the hell have they been doing for 4 months?

Pesticide ban supporters and the city have had since November, 2012 to revise the proposed ban ordinance, and to answer substantial questions about enforcement, administration, legalities, and costs of the ban.

Since then, apparently, they’ve done diddlysquat.

The Safe Grown Initiative activists last presented their proposal Nov. 15, 2012 to a fairly acquiescent Takoma Park city council. Their presentation was mostly about the evils of pesticides.

Catherine Cummings, Safe Grow Zone activist, seated on dais.

Catherine Cummings, Safe Grow Zone activist, seated at dais.

They want to ban “cosmetic lawn and garden pesticide” use on Takoma Park public and private property.  Not only lawn- and landscaping-company use, but individual use. There are exceptions for controlling poisonous, noxious, destructive plants, insects and animals, but even so, waivers would be required, and to get them users must have “exhausted acceptable alternatives.”

As written, the proposed ban raised questions about enforcement, cost, and administration, so the council gave supporters and the city until last Monday to come up with some answers and revisions.

Forum frustration

Instead of the public hearing first proposed, they held an unusual “public forum.” The council allowed the activists seats on the dais, and allowed them to conduct another presentation, calling on several supporters to speak. It was not a presentation about the ordinance and how it would be administrated, but, again, a teach-in on the evils of pesticides. Frustrated citizens who had shown up to speak against the ordinance had to shout to interrupt the infomercial, and get some words of opposition in.

Julie Taddeo, Safe Grow Zone activist.

Julie Taddeo, Safe Grow Zone activist, seated at the dais.

In response to one peeved citizen the mayor promised to have a  financial impact statement at the next public hearing. That citizen was Jim Douglas, former city councilmember, who had presented 53 questions to the activists prior to the forum.  One of the activists even mentioned that she had received those 53 questions, but did not begin to answer them. Another citizen complained that the ordinance had been “cobbled together” from similar ordinances in other jurisdictions.

The activists have the excuse of not being experts in writing ordinances and impact studies (though they had 4 months to consult with such experts). What’s the city’s excuse? What’s the supportive council members’ excuse? Where was the city attorney? Where was the police chief? Where were the financial and legal impact statements?

Former councilmember Jim Douglas said he has "no problem with limitations on pesticides," but does with "false pretenses with this forum," and "refusing to address" questions raised about the ordinance. The meeting had been billed on the city website as a discussion of the ordinance, but "none of the speakers addressed" the ordinance.

Former councilmember Jim Douglas said he has “no problem with limitations on pesticides,” but does with “false pretenses with this forum,” and “refusing to address” questions raised about the ordinance. The meeting had been billed on the city website as a discussion of the ordinance, but “none of the speakers addressed” the ordinance, he said.

Apparently, the activists themselves were expecting a bit more from the city. One said she was surprised the city attorney wasn’t there to answer legal questions. The best the ban supporters could do, when questioned about the proposed ordinance provisions, was to say the draft was only there as a starting point and changes could be made. Which is what they said to the same questions last November.

Drafty details

As the draft is now written, the city staff would become responsible for:

• preparing, designing, and printing a number of forms and other required publications,
• administrating and distributing all the above forms,
• issuing and posting “attestations” whenever the city needed to use a banned pesticide, stating the time, place, banned substances, unavailability of alternatives,
• issuing and processing waiver for citizen’s use of banned substances on private property,
• accepting and reviewing property owners’ appeals, checking they have exhausted acceptable alternative treatments,
• providing notices to people with waivers stating time, place, substance used,
* enforcing and tracking that above notices are posted on land 7 days prior,
* accepting and weighing public comment for waiver applications. The proposed language says the city manager will personally be responsible for this task. Is that the best use of our highest executive?
• outreach and education – the city manager (again) shall publish notice of the ordinance, a list of banned pesticides, alternatives to retailers, lawn- garden- and tree-care providers, churches, schools, other institutions. Why churches? Why schools? What other institutions?
• sending these notices every two years or sooner to the same places.

Hanging questions

Here are just some of the questions left hanging, many of them raised by Your Gilbert in the November 15th column, and also raised by citizens at the forum (ALL of whom said they don’t use cosmetic pesticides, or use them rarely). In 4 months, nobody came up with any answers to these:

• Who will do the enforcement? The overburdened city police department, or the overburdened city code enforcement office?
• How much will this cost?
• How will we pay for it: higher taxes, fire current staff, eliminate or scale back city services, take it out of the speed camera funds, charge hefty waiver application fees? It HAS to be one or a combination of those.
• Will this require new staff? A new department?
• How will this be enforced? Lawn-treatment companies leave handy little signs on the lawn – so that’s easy. But individuals can easily hide what substances they are using, and once a substance is put down, there’s no easy way to tell it is there.
• Will they depend on citizens ratting each other out?
• If so, how will they confirm the accusation, other than catching somebody red-handed?
• Will city enforcement staff come around and take soil, plant, or substance samples?
• Will they need a warrant to go onto private property to take samples?
• How will they test the samples?
• Will the city establish it’s own lab, or send samples out?
• If samples are sent out, how much will that cost?

Your Gilbert wonders where, oh where, has the council been for 4 months? If they support this ban, why aren’t they using their expertise to re-draft the ordinance, deal with the hard questions, and do this in a way that doesn’t spawn a new city department and a hike in taxes to pay for it, and is enforceable?

Mayor Bruce Williams wrapped up the forum with a mild statement, saying he’d “heard a lot of agreement about . . . reducing pesticide use,” and the need for education, but he’d also heard “specific questions and issues” about the draft ordinance.

There will be, he said, a council work session in the next couple of weeks.  The council uses work sessions to jawbone about possible legislation, draw rough blueprints of ordinances, then ponder, rewrite, revise, and overthink everything until none of them can stand it anymore. The public can’t comment at work sessions, so at least we won’t have to sit through another pesticide teach-in.

- Gilbert

Addendum: The public comments.

Richard Levine, resident of Cedar Ave, speaks in support of the ban, saying it would raise public awareness. Behind him resident Sabrina Eaton waits her turn. Eaton said she does not use or approve of pesticides, but "Frankly, I don't think it's really my business to be imposing my values on my neighbor."

Richard Levine, resident of Cedar Ave, speaks in support of the ban, saying it would raise public awareness. Behind him resident Sabrina Eaton waits her turn. Eaton said she does not use or approve of pesticides, but “Frankly, I don’t think it’s really my business to be imposing my values on my neighbor.”

Takoma Park resident Robert Lanza asserts that misuse of pesticide (bottle on left) is already illegal.
Takoma Park resident Robert Lanza asserted that misuse of pesticide (bottle on left) is already illegal, so a ban is unnecessary.
Maple Ave. resident David Reiser said "we all agree with the goals, . . . but this is not a serious basis for legislation." He said that the draft ordinance goes beyond the activist's stated goal, and the goal of their petition, which was to only ban pesticide use for cosmetic purposes. "So, start over!"

Maple Ave. resident David Reiser said “we all agree with the goals, . . . but this is not a serious basis for legislation.” He said that the draft ordinance goes beyond the activist’s stated goal, and the goal of their petition, which was to only ban pesticide use for cosmetic purposes. “So, start over!”

Maple Ave. resident is concerned how the ordinance would affect neighbor relations. He said it encourages "neighbor on neighbor surveillance." He said he'd rather have neighbors posting what they've applied on their lawns, than have them do it surreptitiously, as he fears they would do if the ordinance were in effect.

A Maple Ave. resident is concerned how the ordinance would affect neighbor relations. He said it encourages “neighbor on neighbor surveillance.” He said he’d rather have neighbors posting what they’ve applied on their lawns, than have them do it surreptitiously, as he fears they would do if the ordinance were in effect.

Janet Macaninch and her 9 year old daughter spoke in favor of the ban. A physician, Macaninch set forth her concerns about pesticides, and welcomed the "chance to make a small change" that sets an example and protects children's health. The 9 year old spoke in opposition to "breathing in a bunch of gross stuff."

Janet Macaninch and her 9 year old daughter spoke in favor of the ban. A physician, Macaninch set forth her concerns about pesticides, and welcomed the “chance to make a small change” that sets an example and protects children’s health. The 9 year old spoke in fervent opposition to “breathing in a bunch of gross stuff.”

Non-resident Alan Cohen said he was asked by Takoma Park clients to speak in support of the ban. Cohen runs a pest control company that uses alternative methods and substances. He admitted his firm does not do landscape work and he has not read the ordinance.

Non-resident Alan Cohen said he was asked by Takoma Park clients to speak in support of the ban. Cohen runs a pest control company that uses alternative methods and substances. He admitted his firm does not do landscape work and he has not read the ordinance.

Jackson Ave. resident Tami Jeval spoke in favor of the ban. Her home was mistakenly "dosed" by a lawn company, and around that time her son began to exhibit asthma symptoms. "We have to take a stand," she said, "it's out of control."

Jackson Ave. resident Tami Jeval spoke in favor of the ban. Her home was mistakenly “dosed” by a lawn company, and around that time her son began to exhibit asthma symptoms. “We have to take a stand,” she said, “it’s out of control.”

Mary Rippon, of Ward 2 attended in her capacity as Montgomery County Green Party co-chair. She spoke in favor of a ban, saying she puts up her own "little yellow lawn signs" that say "Pesticide Free."

Mary Rooker, of Ward 2 attended in her capacity as Montgomery County Green Party co-chair. She spoke in favor of a ban, saying she puts up her own “little yellow lawn signs” that say “Pesticide Free.”

Carter Dougherty, Crescent Circle resident, says he would like to manage his yard with "occasional use of pesticides." He cited the approach used by the city's Public Work director - which she had described earlier in the forum - as a model for residents. He said the proposed law was an "unworkable ordinance."

Carter Dougherty, Crescent Circle resident, says he would like to manage his yard with “occasional use of pesticides.” He cited the approach used by the city’s Public Work director – which she had described earlier in the forum – as a model for residents. He said the proposed law was an “unworkable ordinance.”

Wendon Wilkes of Willow Avenue said he doesn't take much care of his lawn, so he was happy to move to Takoma Park, where "I've never seen a community with less aesthetic lawns." But, he said, the ordinance is "a solution looking for a problem," smacks of a "nanny state," and is a "ridiculous imposition on people."

A resident of Willow Avenue said he’s not into lawn care, so he was happy to move to Takoma Park, where, he joked, “I’ve never seen a community with less aesthetic lawns.” But, he said, the ordinance is “a solution looking for a problem,” smacks of a “nanny state,” and is a “ridiculous imposition on people.”

A Larch Ave. resident said pesticide use should not be an issue of personal choice. He said he had not read the ordinance.

A Larch Ave. resident said pesticide use should not be an issue of personal choice. He said he had not read the ordinance.

Another Willow Ave. resident said he only uses pesticides "begrudgingly, when other means are exhausted," but he is upset by the proposed ordinance. He characterized it as a "preventative law," which "seems like a good idea," but once implemented become "tyranny incarnate." It would be, he said, a "huge intrusion."

Another Willow Ave. resident said he only uses pesticides “begrudgingly, when other means are exhausted,” but he is upset by the proposed ordinance. He characterized it as a “preventative law,” which “seems like a good idea,” but once implemented would become “tyranny incarnate.” It would be, he said, a “huge intrusion.”

d" tCarol Mermey of Holly Ave observed that everyone speaking at the forum had been in favor of "judicious pesticide use." Since this seemed to be the prevailing practice, she was not sure of the "extent of the problem." Furthermore, the science and literature on the dangers (or not) of pesticides was constantly changing. The city would have to "hire a staff of experts in the fielo keep track of new developments. That would be "kind of expensive," she said, wondering if the city budget would allow for that. She urged not to pass the ban, but to conduct an educational campaign.

Carol Mermey of Holly Ave observed that everyone speaking at the forum had been in favor of “judicious pesticide use.” Since this seemed to be the prevailing practice, she was not sure of the “extent of the problem.” Furthermore, the science and literature on the dangers (or not) of pesticides was constantly changing. The city would have to “hire a staff of experts in the field to keep track of new developments. That would be “kind of expensive,” she said, wondering if the city budget would allow for that. She urged an educational campaign rather than a ban.

 

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About the author: Gilbert

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 comment

  1. Steve Davies says:

    Nice write-up, Gilbert. I too was perplexed as to why the proponents offered no answers to any of the numerous questions asked. I also didn’t get why only supporters of the ordinance were up on the dais, including the head of a lawn-care company. The implied endorsement of a commercial business didn’t feel right.

    I suspect the city attorney has not weighed in yet because asking her to analyze the ordinance would cost money. And without substantial editing, such a review would probably cost more than $1,000. Better to make the ordinance a bit more “Takoma-centric” before subjecting it to legal review.

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