A local committee’s plan to fight bulk application in 2009
Randa Solick spent the fall of 2007 cringing at the visible effects that the State of California’s aerial pesticide spray over the Monterey Bay area was having on the life around her. The most painful to watch, she says, was how used to it her grandchildren got. “Everyday at preschool, the children stepped out of their ‘outside shoes’ and into their ‘inside shoes,’” she says. “Can you imagine if they had had to do that once a month, for three years?”
Solick, a member of People Against Chemical Trespass (P.A.C.T.), is referring to the original monthly timeline the state had for the spray, which has been on hiatus while the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) completes its Environmental Impact Report. Many Santa Cruzans, such as Solick, vividly remember when the region was aerially doused with pesticides in an effort to control the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM). Seabirds died, bees went missing, household pets fell sick and 643 people reported illness, according to P.A.C.T. Thousands of people signed petitions against the LBAM pesticides, and many more flaunted angry signs with messages like “No Spray! No Way!” But with these signs no longer in the front window of every home and none but the scarce petitioner on Pacific Avenue, it would seem to most that the fervor over the perilous spray has died down.
Hardly. On Dec. 15, P.A.C.T. unveiled the “City of Santa Cruz Local Control, Pesticide and Chemical Trespass Ordinance,” a hopeful local law that will ban the bulk application of pesticides within city limits.
Mary Graydon-Fontana, a member of P.A.C.T., which serves as the Corporation and Ordinance Committee for the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF), was deeply involved in last year’s Stop the Spray movement that was successful in stopping aerial sprays over urban areas. She says that although that was an important victory, the fight against “chemical trespass” is far from won. The problem is that few people still seem to care.
“When we had our town hall meetings for the spray we got a huge amount of people, but that was because people were personally threatened,” she says. “That is what is different about this – we are getting them to realize they are, and will continue to be, threatened.”
She points to the CDFA’s continued LBAM eradication plans, which include the Sterile Moth Technique (a sterile insect release program planned for Spring ’09) and Male Moth Attractant Sites (MMAS). Graydon-Fontana refers to the latter as “splat,” a method that will apply sticky substances, pumped with moth pheromones, to telephone poles and street trees. But the most overlooked threat Graydon-Fontanta wishes to share with the public is the continuation of “pesticide drift.” Although the CDFA eliminated aerial spray over urban areas, they will continue such methods over “remote areas inaccessible by ground vehicles,” according to their website. However, a Sept. 16 Department of Pesticide Regulation Deposition Study reported that aerially applied pesticides drift an average of 3.3 miles outside of the spray zone. These issues will be addressed at P.A.C.T.’s Jan. 12 town hall meeting about their recently penned ordinance. The event will be held at the Veterans Hall in downtown Santa Cruz.
“They can’t keep these ‘pests’ from coming from other places,” says Graydon-Fontana. “If their answer is to keep dumping pesticides on us, it is going to make us all sick and destroy beneficial species and destroy the environment. There are ways that can be used to control pests that are much more natural, such as what Australia and New Zealand are doing with the LBAM.”
P.A.C.T. plans to present the ordinance to the Santa Cruz City Council in February. Written with help from Global Exchange and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), it was designed to fit in with Santa Cruz County’s existing Integrated Pest Management policy, adopted in 2000 by the Board of Supervisors, obligating the county to use the least toxic method in any case. If adopted by the city council, the pending ordinance would ban the bulk application of pesticides anywhere within Santa Cruz city limits. It would not affect the use of pesticides on personal property.
“If you want to spray Raid all over your property, nobody’s going to stop you,” says Solick. “It’s about bulk application by corporations.”
The genesis of the ordinance was at CELDF’s annual Democracy School, which Solick, Graydon-Fontana and a handful of other WILPF members attended earlier this year.
“After going to Democracy School, I realized what we were doing was just the regulatory approach,” says Graydon-Fontana. “We were doing the best we could, and not getting anywhere. With the court case we won, they did stop the aerial spray over homes. But it wasn’t finished and there was much more they needed to do.”
CELDF inspired the women to write what is known as a “rights-based ordinance,” one that calls upon people’s inalienable constitutional rights. More specifically for P.A.C.T., the right to safety as stipulated in Article One, Section One of the California Constitution. According to these rights, proponents of the ordinance believe that individuals should have the ability to make decisions regarding their own health – thus, in the case of dangerous pesticides, letting those who are affected make the decisions.
“The point of all these rights-based ordinances is that, under the Constitution of California and the Declaration of Independence, we have the right to govern ourselves, as long as it doesn’t infringe on anyone else,” says Solick. Graydon-Fontana agrees, adding that the point of the ordinance is to make people realize “that they have the right to decide about their safety in the places they live.”
The group is knowingly pushing the ban in spite of current state level laws that prevent towns, cities and counties from making local pesticide laws. They look to the successful rights-based ordinances passed in 123 other cities and counties across the country as justified inspiration for “challenging an unjust law.” Even the handful of these cities and counties that were sued by their governing state succeeded in ending the wrongdoing or harmful practice that their ordinance had set out to abolish. “No corporations have continued doing those things while these rights-based ordinances have been in place, which is what we want to do here,” says Solick. P.A.C.T. is prepared for the state to fight the Control, Pesticide and Chemical Trespass Ordinance but does not think it is likely. “Although there is a definite possibility that the state might sue, the better possibility is that the state is broke, and so is the city – it is very unlikely that anybody will sue anybody,” says Solick.
With the “hibernating” LBAM eradication plans soon to be awoken, P.A.C.T. is treating the passage of their ordinance with urgency. The CDFA’s Expanded LBAM Program Area as of July 2008 showed plans to spread LBAM control efforts to almost every county in California, and the women behind P.A.C.T. believe that Santa Cruz is the right place to start a rights-based protection movement across the Golden State. “Wouldn’t it be great if a number of the cities and counties started doing this at once?” says Graydon-Fontana. “We happen to be the first. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”