Dear Palo Alto School Board members:

We, the Board of Directors of the Barron Park Association, urge the Palo Alto School Board to recognize that the area behind the Gunn High School athletic fields - known locally as Strawberry Hill - serves the community in a number of ways and has significant community value. The paths are used for exercise both by both and by employees from the Research Park, and the bike path is a heavily used route for both bike and pedestrians, both young and old.

We do not want this area to become a blighted wasteland. The recent spraying of herbicide may have created an opportunity to improve this area to the benefit of both the School District and the broader community (described below). We urge you to direct staff to aggressively pursue this opportunity.

Problem: Remnants of PAUSD dumping

Circa 2002, large amounts of construction debris - reportedly from a project at Palo Alto High School - were dumped in many places throughout these fields instead of taking them to a proper recycling/landfill site. This was done without the knowledge of the Gunn HS administration (principal then was Scott Laurence). Gunn managed to get a limited cleanup, but debris is still readily visible except when it is hidden by the grass. Additional remediation is needed.

Problem: Inadequate notification

The herbicide used was Roundup, which requires minimal only a very brief exclusion period, but routinely carries the advice that humans and animals try to avoid contract for 72 hours. People who walk the paths letting their dogs run through the grass have expressed concern.

There should have been better posting of warnings around the field. Because such warning signs are subject to vandalism, we would offer, and encourage, the School District staff to contact us so that we can supplement those warning signs by sending a message to our email list.
Note: The administrations of individual schools have used the neighborhood's email list to distribute information of upcoming events.

There was a similar problem with inadequate notification of the poisoning of ground squirrels and voles near the Gunn playing fields and stadium. Only one person that we know of saw a warning sign. We don't know what poison was used, but many dog owners let their pets stick their noses down the ground squirrel burrows, and there seems to be the potential for a tragedy because they didn't know to avoid that area.

Opportunity: Revegetation of Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill has recently been covered by non-native grasses and other invasive species. These grow quickly during the winter and spring and dry into a fuel that burns hot and fast. The School District has traditionally done a combination of mowing and plowing in mid-Spring to control the fire hazard, but there have been years when the grasses dried faster than expected and arsonists set fires.

If Strawberry Hill were to be revegetated with native plants, the fire hazard would be dramatically reduced - experience is that such grasses only smolder. Strawberry Hill has good potential for returning to natives. First, there are some relict clumps of native grasses and other native plants on the periphery of this field. Second, native plants have repeatedly returned to the field, seeded by these outlying plants. However, the fire controls have prevented them from becoming established.

The Barron Park Association pushed the Santa Clara Valley Water District to revegetate the Creek Bypass project area (under the current bike path) with native plants, and then supplemented the Water District's plantings. Acterra has approached the BPA about working with us and the School District on a revegetation project for this field.

The potential advantage of this approach is that the field would be more attractive and would provide habitat to a wide range of species. It might well have educational value (Elementary, Middle or High School).

Background: Herbicide Usage

The concerns expressed to us by residents about the use of herbicide on Strawberry Hill fall into two categories. The first is the timing of the application. In past years, the mowing/plowing took place later (typically in May), and there is concern that this eliminated habitat for populations that had grown to expect it (for example, birds that fed on the insects in the field).

The second concern was with the chemical itself. Run-off from Strawberry Hill flows directly into a natural section of Matadero Creek (there is a little noticed drain pipe at the bottom of the hill). The active ingredient in Roundup is designed to avoid running off by binding to soil almost immediately upon contact (although there are reported instances of it becoming un-bound under unknown circumstances). However, a chemical used to improve the distribution of the active ingredients has been reported to readily run off, and to kill various forms of aquatic life (especially frogs).

Barron Park Elementary School is just downstream and uses the creek for science projects (at two grade levels). The local Girl Scouts have also had (unsuccessful) projects to try to rebuild the frog populations.


We urge the School Board to emphasize to School District staff that:

Sincerely yours,

Douglas Moran, President
Barron Park Association