Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Stop the Spray
Moms mobilize to stop moth spraying
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The vision of airplanes rumbling slowly over San Francisco, spraying a pesticide mist on parks and playgrounds, has now mobilized one of the most effective lobbying groups in the world.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture's plan to eradicate the light brown apple moth with aerial spraying over the city this summer was already in an uphill fight. But when 100 or so mothers and kids showed up at City Hall on Monday afternoon with signs like "Keep Your Spray Off My Baby," it was clear that the battle had entered a new phase.
"Nothing gets people more irate than a government institution spraying their kids from a plane," said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. "It's a bad movie. And nobody wants to be in that movie."
Lynn Murphy, a mother of two, was at Monday's rally, somewhat surprised to be chanting "Stop the Spray" along with everyone else.
"I don't consider myself an activist," said Murphy, who lives a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, where the most moths have been found so far in the city. "But when it comes down to your children and protecting your family, it seems so much more urgent. I never thought I would be talking to my 4-year-old and telling her that we are going up to the state Capitol to talk to politicians."
Nearly everyone agrees that the moth is a serious threat to crops. As Blumenfeld puts it, "the fear is that it is going to go after the crops in the Central Valley and cause billions of dollars in damages."
The debate is about what action to take and whether enough advance planning has been done. Local politicians have lined up to slow down the process, demanding environmental studies, public hearings and a moratorium on aerial spraying.
Mayor wrote to governor
Mayor Gavin Newsom sent a formal letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on March 20, urging "further review of the planned spraying before the state moves forward."
And city Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi will introduce a symbolic resolution opposing the aerial spraying at today's board meeting.
"C'mon," Mirkarimi said before the rally, "who does spraying in San Francisco? This isn't Stockton."
Frankly, there is some debate about exactly how dangerous the spraying really is. There's been lots of discussion from scientists on both sides of the issue.
But never underestimate the power of an extremely worried mother.
"I have a 7-year-old son," said Michelle Darby, a spokeswoman for the California Alliance to Stop the Spray. "And if we get sprayed, we're moving out of California."
Murphy said she heard about the spraying from her daughter's preschool e-mail group. In the last two weeks, she and some other moms have written a piece for an independent newspaper and have created a Web site, playnotspray.org. The San Francisco chapter of California Alliance to Stop the Spray was only formed four weeks ago and already has an active, and growing, mailing list of over 200.
Echoes of medfly spraying
Nearly 30 years ago, spraying for the medfly sent the Bay Area into an uproar. The medfly (short for the Mediterranean fruit fly) was seen as a huge threat to crops. In 1981, then-Gov. Jerry Brown ordered helicopter spraying of the pesticide malathion over the Peninsula. The plan caused so much concern that the Red Cross opened shelters outside the spray zones for worried residents. That controversy may be over, but it hasn't been forgotten.
"It's amazing how people still talk about that like it was yesterday," Blumenfeld said.
At this point it appears that the state is going to go ahead with plans to spray for the light brown apple moth. There has already been one spray cycle on the Monterey Peninsula in October, but the results were anything but encouraging. Concerned families left their homes, and some of those who stayed say they experienced respiratory problems and stomach pains.
Mirkarimi says state officials didn't exactly fill him with confidence as the Monterey spraying approached.
"These guys aren't ready," he said. "They couldn't even come to agreement amongst themselves whether workers should stay in the fields or not. So does that mean people should stay in their homes?"
What many people find hard to imagine is that the current plan is to spray the entire city of San Francisco, not just Golden Gate Park and Treasure Island, the two sites where the light brown apple moth has been trapped with the highest frequency.
"The state is saying they want to eradicate the moth," Blumenfeld said. "We don't think that is possible. But if they are going to try, they are going to have to spray the entire city."
It is the idea of the planes spraying the Financial District or Fisherman's Wharf that seems to shock everyone. Would day care centers put tarps over their play structures? Would kids playing in backyards be buzzed by a fog-spewing airplane?
"I think it is madness," said Rodger Raderman, who lives in Pacific Heights. "I had trouble believing it. They are really going to do this?"
So far they are. A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was concerned enough to release a statement in response to the CASS rally on Monday.
"I am confident," Kawamura said, "that a thoughtful review of the facts about this pest will show anyone that this program's success is critical to our economy, our environment, and public health."
Good luck with that. Because at this point, the anti-spray groups are convinced that there is only one way to stop this: public outrage. And they're planning on delivering it, beginning with a trip to Sacramento this week. Those who support the spraying can expect to get an earful.
"This," said Blumenfeld, "is one of those things that you don't want to be on the wrong side of."
Attend an upcoming meeting or protest regarding the plan to spray the Bay Area with a moth pesticide:
State legislators are expected to discuss the spraying plan at a hearing before the Assembly Agriculture Committee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the State Capitol, room 4204, Sacramento. There will be time for public comment.
State Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, is planning a protest "play-in" on April 28, on the Polk Street steps of San Francisco City Hall. Kids are welcome.
For more information on the spraying plan, log on to:
State Department of Food & Agriculture, www.cdfa.ca.gov.
Anti-spray groups www.playnotspray.org and www.CASSonline.org.
C.W. Nevius' column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. E-mail him at email@example.com.