Environmental Protection Agency

Residents, City Clash Over Grass Removal Drought Plan For Parks

A drought-mitigation plan that involved killing off grass at a park has some residents at odds with their Southern California city, as communities search for ways to address state-ordered cutbacks amid the state's four-year dry spell.

The residents are concerned about a chemical used to remove the grass, much of which will be replaced with wood chips. The herbicide RoundUp, a chemical the Conejo Recreation and Park District is using to kill off grass at Russell Park in Thousand Oaks, produced a strong odor.

"Everybody around here could smell it. It was terrible," said Linda Spencer, recalling the day in late May when she brought her dog to the park.

Parks officials said the chemical does not pose a health threat to park visitors.

"It is deemed safe, by our EPA, to walk on immediately after it's been sprayed," said Jim Freidl, general manager of the recreation and parks district.

Residents also are upset about what will replace giant areas of grass under the park’s shady trees, where parents watch sports and kids picnic. About 185,000 square feet of turf will be removed at the park, according to the parks district website.

"To tear this all out and replace it with wood chips, would be criminal," said Spencer.

Thousand Oaks resident John Wilcox and others started looking into drought mitigation at other parks in the district and discovered that some won't be getting any chemical spray.

"We went through every park in the whole city," Wilcox said. "Why should we be penalized?"

Conejo's general manager said desperate times call for desperate measures, and the state's water board ordered a 36 percent cut for the city's parks across the board. The parks district has turned off water for parts of nearly every park.

"This is not what we preferred to do, either," Freidl said.

Friedl said parks that were mostly sports parks were taking bigger hits, but he said he will meet with residents to consider alternatives to the wood chips.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Russell Park is in the San Fernando Valley. The park is located in the Conejo Valley.

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