Local Government Takes Aim at Invasive Exotic Plants

Mar 1, 1999

The following article is from the Winter issue of Noxious Times, a quarterly publication of the California Interagency Noxious Weed Coordinating Committee. It describes legislation authored by Interactive Resources President, Thomas K. Butt, FAIA, who is also a Richmond City Councilman.

City of Richmond Redefines “Weed”

In an initiative that may be the first of its kind in California, the Richmond City Council this past winter amended its Weed Abatement ordinance to include invasive exotic plants as “weeds.” The amendment to the ordinance (Richmond Municipal code Chapter 9.50) specifically defines invasive exotic plants as “weeds,” declares them a public nuisance, and provides for abatement procedures. The amendment also defines “invasive exotic species,” elucidating the impact aggressive, foreign plants can have on a native ecosystem.

The original ordinance, authored more than 25 years ago, narrowly defined “weed” as: “a plant with wingy or downy seeds, that poses a fire threat, or that by nature is caustic or noxious, for example poison oak.” As concern increased in recent years over the spread of invasive exotic plants, it became clear that the standing definition did not take into consideration the very real threat invading weedy plants pose, particularly to parks and wildlands.

The push to amend the Weed Abatement ordinance grew out of Councilman Tom Butt’s interest in protecting “urban” native plant habitats from being destroyed by invasive exotics. Butt, who is also an architect and amateur horticulturist, had the personal experience of reclaiming several acres of his own property from a mature stand of French Broom and restoring it to its original coastal prairie ecosystem. After drafting the amendment, he worked with Parks Superintendent Tony Norris to finalize the proposed changes. Support from local chapters of the California Native Plant Society and the Sierra Club carried the amendment to passage by the City Council in December of 1997.

The amended Weed Abatement ordinance is likely to benefit surrounding parks and wildlands as the city now has the authority to enforce control of invasive species on private land. Councilman Butt explains that many of the city’s largest private landholders are proximate or adjacent to large wildland parks. The invasive exotics on private lands constitute a formidable seed bank that continually assault parklands despite preventative and maintenance efforts by park agencies. Under the new definition of “weed,” the city would be able to take action against these invasives that pose an ecological threat to wildlands.

The amendment is an important step in strengthening the city’s ability to protect the area from plant invasions and may serve as a guide for other California municipalities looking to institute similar changes.

Additional information about invasive exotic plants may be obtained from the following web links:

117 Park Place • Point Richmond, CA • 94801 •  • info@intres.com • 510-236-7435