Taking unusually swift action for a government process, the Irvine City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved using organic pesticides and herbicides on all city-maintained landscaping, including at parks, athletic fields and public buildings.
Responding to a city staff report and more than an hour of passionate public comments from dozens of residents — most of them rallied by the community group Non Toxic Irvine — the council voted 5 to 0 to amend the Integrated Pest Management Policy to prioritize use of organic compounds in pesticides and herbicides over products based on synthetic chemicals.
The policy will continue to list non-organic chemicals as an option when other measures are ineffective.
"I'm shocked at the impact that we had. I can't believe the speed at which they made a change," Non Toxic Irvine board member Ayn Craciun said after the council meeting. "I feel like they really listened to the concerns of the people who live here and made the right decision, which is not always what you expect in these situations."
Non Toxic Irvine already had persuaded several homeowners associations and the Irvine Unified School District to stop using certain products containing the chemical glyphosate. It is the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, which Irvine Unified stopped using after meeting with the group in November to hear its concerns about possible harmful health effects.
Like many of the speakers Tuesday, Craciun has been touched by health issues that they say can be linked to the use of toxic pesticides. She has two healthy children but also suffered multiple unexplained miscarriages while living in Irvine, she said.
Several parents detailed family struggles with childhood cancer that occurred while living in Irvine neighborhoods. Several speakers were accompanied by their children, including James Konte, whose sons Michael, 11, and Trevor, 6, were dressed in Little League baseball uniforms.
"This is something, that if you have children and they're constantly running around and rolling in the dirt like my two little ones are, you worry about the effects," Konte said afterward. "Michael missed a baseball game to be at this. I thought that was important to do."
But Orange County Agricultural Commissioner Mike Bennett raised concerns about what a change in policy might mean for Irvine farmers.
"If you required them to only use organic, then this would severely limit a farmer's options that could likely result in crop losses or increased production costs or both," Bennett said.
Councilwoman Christina Shea, who placed the issue on the agenda, said the policy affects only city-maintained property and not private landholders.
A presentation by Non Toxic Irvine included comments from Bruce Blumberg, a professor of developmental and cell biology and pharmaceutical sciences at UC Irvine.