Santa Barbara’s ecosystem may soon be a bit less toxic thanks to a new policy approved last night by the Santa Barbara City Council.

On Tuesday night, the council approved the Integrated Pest Management policy. The plan added three parks to a list of pesticide-free parks, bringing the total number to 15 of the 57 parks in the city of Santa Barbara. The pan also places restrictions on the use of pesticides in parks where they are allowed.

The IPM policy is modeled after a strategy used in San Francisco, where pesticides are rated based on their level of risk to human health and scaled back until the minimum amount of toxins needed is used, Santa Barbara Assistant Parks & Recreation Director Jeff Cope said. The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District also has a formal organic policy that bans the use of pesticides.

The plan is the result of three years of work by the Pesticide Awareness and Alternatives Coalition (PAAC) and the Environmental Defense Center, whose goal is to eventually end the use of harmful pesticides in the city of Santa Barbara.

In a press conference before the meeting, PAAC president Nancy Black spoke to the crowd about the need to use alternative methods of weed and pest control.

“From the point of view of the parks district, [pesticides] are necessary for aesthetic reasons and to manage the squirrels, but that’s not the case,” Black said. “There are alternatives available, and it will take some resources to make it happen.”

Cope, who is the head of the IPM committee, presented the policy to the council. Cope said the additional resources needed to implement alternative options could cost the city up to four times more than conventional pesticides.

Eric Cardenas, director of the EDC’s Central Coast Environmental Health Project, said he hopes the council will adopt additional elements of the IPM, such as a commitment to eliminating pesticides completely and the inclusion of community members on the IPM Committee.

“The city of Santa Barbara is known as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement,” Cardenas said. “With a couple of adjustments, the EDC feels that this program will be one of the strongest in the region, if not the state.”

Mayor Marty Bloom said she also feels it is important for Santa Barbara to return to its leadership role in the environmental community.

“We kind of fell asleep as a community after the oil spill of ’68, when we got the Earth Day program up and running and things, and we’re just now starting to wake up a little,” Bloom said.

Pedro Nava, California Coastal Commissioner, spoke to the council about the impact Santa Barbara’s decision would have on the environmental community and on the global community in return.

“It is more than heartbreaking to think that pesticides sprayed in Alameda Park make their way to Santa Barbara’s creeks and then to the ocean, where they become part of the world’s food chain,” Nava said. “I don’t know that we have a choice but to do all we can to eliminate the use and exposure to chemicals.”

Cope said the public may react poorly if city parks trade in their high standards of aesthetic appearance for a more organic approach. Jonathan Southard, a former member of the board of directors at Fairview Organic Farms, said he thinks the council should rethink such aesthetic standards.

“The council was afraid of not keeping parks up to standards, but the manicured look we’re used to with the use of pesticides maybe isn’t the look we should be trying for,” Southard said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Iya G. Falcone made a motion for the council to approve the IPM plan with some adjustments, which were passed unanimously. The adjustments stipulate that three additional city parks be added to the list of pesticide-free parks, that the council formally declare its goal to have a completely pesticide-free community and that two community members be given seats on the IMP committee.

Councilmember Brian Barnwell said he was glad to see the community support the policy and anticipates the plan’s initiation.

“I’m so happy to hear that everyone is behind this, and frankly I’m shocked that we haven’t done it sooner,” Barnwell said. “It’s time we get on the horse and ride this thing.”

Black said she was delighted with the council’s decision.

“This is beyond my expectations. I didn’t expect to get everything we asked for,” Black said. “I’m thrilled.”