Oyster Bay: A firehose of public funding supplies a firehose of herbicides

Oyster Bay is one of several East Bay Regional Parks along the east side of the bay that is a former garbage dump built on landfill.  We visited Oyster Bay for the first time in 2011 after a former Deputy General Manager of the park district told us that it is a “beautiful native plant garden” and a model for a similar project at Albany Bulb, another former garbage dump being “restored” by the park district.

When we visited seven years ago, we found a park in the early stages of being destroyed in order to rebuild it as a native plant museum.  Since there were never any native plants on this landfill, we can’t call it a “restoration.”  We took many pictures of the park in 2011 that are available HERE.

We recently decided it was time to revisit the park when we noticed pictures of it in the recently published annual report of the park district’s Integrated Pest Management program, indicating recent changes in the development of the park.  My article today is about what is happening now at Oyster Bay.  It is still not a “beautiful native plant garden.”

“Restoring” grassland

Non-native annual grassland. Oyster Bay April 2011

Seven years ago, most of Oyster Bay was acres of non-native annual grasses.  Since then, most of those acres of grassland have been plowed up and are in various stages of being planted with (one species?) native bunch grass (purple needle grass?).

Stages of grassland conversion. Oyster Bay May 2018

On our May 1st visit, there were at least 8 pesticide application notices posted where the native bunch grass has been planted.  Several different herbicides will be used in those sprayings:  glyphosate, Garlon (triclopyr), and Milestone (aminopyralid).

Herbicide Application Notices, Oyster Bay May 2018

Grassland “restoration” in California is notoriously difficult.  Million Trees has published several articles about futile attempts to convert non-native annual grassland to native grassland:

We wish EBRPD good luck in this effort to convert acres of non-native annual grass into native bunch grass.  Frankly, it looks like a lot of public money down the drain to us.  It also looks like an excuse to use a lot of herbicide.  Who benefits from this project?  Not the taxpayer.  Not the park visitor who is now exposed to a lot of herbicide that wasn’t required in the past.  Not the wildlife, birds, and insects that lived in and ate the non-native vegetation. (We spotted a coyote running through the stumps of bunch grass.  Was he/she looking for cover?)

Redwing blackbird in non-native mustard. Oyster Bay May 2018

Destroying trees and replacing them

Pittosporum forest was an excellent visual screen, sound barrier, and wind break. It was healthy and well-suited to the conditions on this site. It was probably home to many animals. Oyster Bay April 2011

When we visited Oyster Bay in 2011, many trees had already been destroyed, but there was still a dense forest of non-native pittosporum.  That forest is gone and the park district has planted one small area with native trees as a “visual screen” of the Waste Management Facility next door.  We identified these native trees and shrubs:  ironwood (native to the Channel Islands), coast live oak, buckeye, toyon, juniper, mallow, holly leaf cherry, and redbud.

Native trees planted at Oyster Bay, May 2018
Ground around trees is green with dye used when herbicide is sprayed. Oyster Bay, May 2018

We also saw a notice of herbicide application near the trees.  The ground around the trees was covered in green dye, which is added to herbicide when it is sprayed so that the applicator can tell what is done.  There were men dressed in white hazard suits, driving park district trucks, apparently getting ready to continue the application of herbicides.

Will the trees survive this poisoning of the soil all around them?  There are many examples of trees being killed by spraying herbicides under them.  Herbicides are often mobile in the soil.  Herbicides damage the soil by killing beneficial microbes and mycorrhizal fungi that facilitate the movement of water and nutrients from the soil to the tree roots.

Herbicide sprayed around newly planted trees. Oyster Bay May 2018

Not a fun day at the park

It wasn’t a fun day at the park and it isn’t fun to write about it.  I decided to tell you about this visit after reading the most recent edition of the Journal of the California Native Plant Society, Fremontia (Vol. 46 No. 1).  The introductory article of this “Special Issue on Urban Wildlands” is illustrated with a photo of Oyster Bay.  I nearly choked on this statement in that article:  “In order to control invasive plants, agencies and volunteers have sometimes resorted to using herbicides as a step in integrated pest control.  While use of herbicides is contentious, the use for spot treatments has enabled small groups of volunteers to successfully eliminate invasive weeds in some areas where future herbicide use will not be needed.” 

That is a PATENTLY FALSE statement.  The California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey of land managers in 2014.  Ninety-four percent of land managers reported using herbicides to control plants they consider “invasive.”  Sixty-two percent reported using herbicides frequently.  The park district’s most recent IPM report for 2017 corroborates the use of herbicides to eradicate plants they consider “invasive.”  The park district report also makes it clear that they have been spraying herbicide for a very long time.  For example, they have been spraying non-native spartina marsh grass (in the bay and along creeks) with imazapyr for 15 years!

Attempting to eradicate non-native plants is NOT a short-term project.  It is a forever commitment to using herbicides…LOTS of herbicide.  To claim otherwise is to mislead, unless you are completely ignorant of what is actually being done. 

You are paying for this

Another reason why I am publishing this article is to inform you that you are paying for these projects.  The park district recently published a list of 492 active park improvement projects in 2018 (scroll down to page 71), many of which are native plant “restorations.” The majority of them are being paid for with grants of public money from federal, State, and local agencies as well as a few parcel taxes.  Taxpayers had the opportunity to vote for the parcel taxes.  They will have the opportunity to vote for new sources of funding for these projects:

  • Proposition 68 will provide $4.1 BILLION dollars for “park and water” improvements. It will be on your ballot on June 5, 2018. Roughly a third of the money will be allocated for “protection of natural habitats.” (1) Although the project at Oyster Bay does not look “natural” to us, that’s how the park district and other public agencies categorize these projects that (attempt to) convert non-native vegetation to native vegetation.
  • Measure CC renewal will be on the ballot in Alameda and Contra Costa counties on November 6, 2018.  The park district has made a commitment to allocate 40% of the available funding to “natural resource projects.” Although the anticipated revenue (about $50 million) seems small, it is used as leverage to apply for big State grants, which require cost-sharing funding.  Measure CC is essentially seed money for the much bigger federal and State funding sources.

I would like to vote for both of these measures because our parks are very important to me.  If voting for these measures would actually improve the parks, I would do so.  But that’s not what I see happening in our parks.  What I see is a lot of damage:  tree stumps, piles of wood chips, dead vegetation killed by herbicides, herbicide application notices, signs telling me not to step on fragile plants, etc.

Stay out of Oyster Bay to avoid unnecessary exposure to herbicides and keep your dogs out of Oyster Bay for the same reason. Unfortunately wildlife doesn’t have that option. They live there. Oyster Bay, May 2018

  1. “States big bond for little projects,” SF Chronicle, May 5, 2018

Oyster Bay: A preview of plans for the Albany Bulb

The Albany Bulb is the former dump of the city of Albany, CA.  It was built on landfill.  The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) recently announced its intention to “restore” it as a native plant garden, though it admits that the word “restore” is a misnomer for a place that was never populated by native plants.  Presently, the Bulb contains an eclectic collection of art built from the junk that remains from the dump.  Non-native plants and trees thrive there with no care.  Please visit our post about the Albany Bulb for photos of this colorful and unique recreational and artistic resource. 

We recently had the opportunity to express our opinion of plans for the Albany Bulb in a conversation with the Assistant General Manager of Planning/Stewardship & Development of EBRPD.   We told the manager that it is pointless to destroy the Albany Bulb because it is an artificial place in which native plants are not more native than what grows there now without any care.  It is a heavily used place that does not require any “improvements.”  It is therefore a waste of money to destroy something that everyone loves just as it is.

The manager told us that we would also love the native plant garden once it is done.  He said that visitors often object to plans for changes in their park, but that when the project is done, they are always happy with it.  He urged us to visit Oyster Bay, a former dump for the city of San Leandro, also built on landfill.  He said it is now a beautiful native plant garden that everyone is delighted to visit.  And so, of course, we had to see this transformation because we want to know what is in store for the Albany Bulb.

This is what we found at Oyster Bay. 

Oyster Bay, April 2011

We found hundreds of stumps of trees that have been destroyed.  Many of the trees are now resprouting.  We wondered if the resprouts would be poisoned to prevent the trees from regenerating.  If not, we wondered how long it would take for the trees to return. 


The ground around the tree stumps was a labyrinth of the holes made by animals that had lived in them in the past.  The animals have moved on, perhaps to the cover provided by trees nearby. 

Pittosporum, Oyster Bay

We found a green sea of non-native grass.

Non-native annual grass

We found non-native broom and native coyote brush and close by huge piles of those same shrubs that have been mechanically cleared.  We don’t know why they have been mowed down.  We doubt that anyone would consider these debris piles a “park improvement.”

Non-native broom & Pride of Madeira, native coyote brush
One of many piles of destroyed vegetation

We found a small patch of native plants at the entrance of the park and a sign informing us that this scene of destruction is a “park improvement” project.

We also spoke to one of the few visitors we encountered on this beautiful spring Saturday.  We asked if they had been coming to the park for a long time.  They said that had.  We asked how they felt about the changes in the park, without giving them any clues as to our own assessment.  They readily volunteered that they didn’t understand why the trees were destroyed. 


A few native plants at the park entrance

Once again, we are reminded that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Assuming that the park manager with whom we spoke about Oyster Bay has actually seen this park, and that he sincerely believes that it is a lovely native plant garden, we must beg to differ.  Although it is a beautiful park, it has not been improved by the needless destruction of trees and vegetationThe beauty of this park derives from its diverse collection of predominantly non-native plants and trees.  We hope that it will not be further damaged by an agenda that is devoted to native plants, not to the enjoyment of park visitors. Likewise, the Albany Bulb is unlikely to be improved by destroying plants, trees, and art that is all doing just fine without any intervention by the East Bay Regional Park District.  We urge the Park District to LET IT BE! 

We don't think so!