3/20/01 Meeting with Ag. Commissioner of

Report submitted via
TO: Alameda County Board of Supervisors
FROM: East Bay Pesticide Alert
RE: Our 3/20 meeting with Alameda County Community Development Agency staff about the Pierce's
Disease Control Program (Glassy-winged Sharpshooter)
DATE: 3/29/01

Dear Alameda County Board of Supervisors:

This report of the 3/20 meeting of East Bay Pesticide Alert with Alameda County Community Development Agency staff has become a bit lengthy, but we feel important points of information must not be left out.

As a preliminary note, some of the things we learned at the meeting were:
*an extensive inspection program of commercial plant shipments is in place
*a GWSS infestation is a reasonable expectation in Alameda County (because no quarantine is in place)
*use of toxic pesticide is the State's first choice response
*30-50 cases of pesticide/herbicide poisonings in Alameda County are investigated by Alameda County Agriculture Dept. each year, with growers, farmworkers, and homeowners the most likely victims.
--Considering all the ongoing routine agricultural, public, and residential use of pesticides and herbicides, for the State to add more is unacceptable

Following is our report on the meeting and the situation:


On Tuesday, March 20, East Bay Pesticide Alert met with Alameda County Community Development Agency staff: Lane Bailey, James Newey and Earl Whitaker (Deputy Director and Agricultural Commissioner). Cheryl Pascual, aide to Supervisor Lai-Bitker attended.


Immediately brought up was that there seemed to have been a miscommunication between our group and Nancy Nadel's office regarding spraying and drenching for the Glassy-winged Sharpshooter (GWSS).

While we've never said that Oakland was about to be sprayed or drenched right now, it was indeed made clear to us in the over-3-hour long meeting that the use of toxic pesticides has not been ruled out. We were happy to hear Ag. Commissioner Whitaker state that his intent is to attempt to avoid the use of pesticides. But he did not rule out the use of toxic pesticides, and indeed, the whole California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) program has toxic pesticide use at its core. Unfortunately, as Commissioner Whitaker acknowledged, the Pierce's Disease Control Program is being overseen by the CDFA. The CDFA's program, as it has actually played out in several counties throughout the state, has always resulted in spraying or drenching with toxic pesticides when a local infestation has been named. (Find an "infestation" = Eradicate. With poison.)

[NOTE: from contacts made subsequent to the meeting, we do appreciate Commissioner Whitaker's cooperation in keeping us informed of relevant developments and his supporting us in the work we do. We look forward to working further with him on pesticide-related issues.]


We have been dismayed to note that many of the pesticide applications which have taken place around people's homes in the last year, have taken place in counties where the counties themselves have not been called infested. The pesticiding has been invoked to eradicate local "infestations" -- a plan mentioned several times by Commissioner Whitaker as being considered as THE means to avoid having a massive population explosion of GWSS. A regional example is Brentwood, California, this last fall when over 200 homes were sprayed, which we discussed at the meeting. (We qualify the word "infestation" because this so-called "pest" does no harm to people, their pets, or other animals, and only minor damage to any plant other than grapevines. It is the transmission of Pierce's Disease in vineyards that makes this insect a "serious threat.")


Contra Costa County Agricultural Commissioner Ed Meyer stated last fall that he believed the GWSS population in Brentwood was originally brought in on landscaping plants from southern California by the developer of that subdivision, and he said no one had ever complained to his department about the GWSS in yards. The neighborhood was labelled infested after an innocent neighbor called the department saying she/he thought that the bugs in his yard might be GWSS, having seen a picture in the brochure posted by the Ag. Dept. This man was not calling to complain of any GWSS impact or concerns. It was only two weeks from reporting to homes being sprayed. After the spraying, many Brentwood residents felt they had been "snowed" and not given adequate information or choice. Some reported health concerns consistent with Carbaryl exposure. And, interestingly, in mid-February of this year, Mr. Meyer said they expect to find GWSS any time again in that neighborhood. Even though they sprayed last Fall. So they expect to spray again this Spring.


While Earl Whitaker believes that there is a chance that we will not have any GWSS "infestation" here, he does acknowledge that there is no guarantee, particularly since there is movement of plantlife into the county from "infested" counties. With the definition of a GWSS "infestation" (an "infestation" is defined as occurring when only 5 GWSS are found within 5 days, within a 300 yard radius) it becomes easier to understand how the continued movement of plantlife (mostly landscaping plants) from "infested" areas into our county increases the likelihood of the GWSS becoming established here.


While we hope our commissioner will avoid the use of toxic pesticides in favor of other abatement techniques, Commissioner Whitaker has stated in no uncertain terms that he will not rule out the possibility of using pesticides to try to eradicate GWSS. What was alarming to us, is our commissioner's strong belief that to eradicate a "local" infestation (even if a couple of homes) would most likely mean poisoning. He did say that we could eliminate by vacuums or soaps, or by stripping leaves from plants, but he was consistent in pointing to the expectation of using toxic pesticides, especially if the GWSS were discovered around only a couple of homes.

It is ironic that Commissioner Whitaker suggested that if there were a total infestation of the county, they just couldn't spray everywhere and so might not spray at all. This appears consistent with decisions of various Ag. Commissioners in S. Cal who have whole or half counties labeled infested. It seems his thinking, aligned with other Ag. Commissioners', is that if there are a few seen in one place, zap them quickly with contact pesticides and pray that they'll all be killed. Unfortunately, people and animals could be harmed as a result even of more-limited spraying
. Alternative methods of insect control could be more labor intensive and require some creative thinking. However, with the massive amounts of money poured into this program, dealing with the GWSS in non-toxic ways should be readily achievable.


We encouraged Earl Whitaker (and still do) to fully consider the approach taken by the Santa Barbara CAC in planning not to employ toxics. Bill Gillette has seen great success with naturally-occurring parasitic wasps and says he is not about to upset the natural balance created there by using pesticides which will knock out the beneficials.


All parties involved agree that the GWSS is well known for its long and fast flying capabilities, as well as its hopping range, and its two-generation cycle. While the Alameda Agriculture Department is doing a great deal of surveying (trapping) and the CDFA's program includes a certifying (examining) and treating program, many people see little chance of avoiding at least localized "infestations".


We could not get a clear statement about what the timeline would be from the discovery of GWSS under the circumstances that would label it an "infestation" to whatever would be the next step (information? spraying?). Even though Commissioner Whitaker assured us he wasn't going to spray tomorrow, we still don't know what the timeline would be if GWSS were found tomorrow. Commissioner Whitaker did say that if GWSS "infestation" were called tomorrow there's no reason to rush into spraying, that he wouldn't need to jump into spraying the next week. Still, city representatives do not know what might happen if the GWSS is found within their limits. There seems to be no contingency plan in place. Along with no timeline.


We certainly hope that Commissioner Whitaker will join us in more forward-thinking approaches. This is the perfect place and time to show leadership, to take a stand for public health. We also look forward to having city councils and the Board of Supervisors of Alameda County join us as we seek an end to the use of toxic pesticides in response to the GWSS and assert that if an "infestation" occurs in Alameda County, only non-toxic means should be employed in any attempts by the county and state to deal with the GWSS.


Santa Cruz County has added a provision to their workplan, and we would like a similar one (but using the following language) to be added to the Alameda County workplan:

"Should the Ag. Commissioner and Bd. of Supervisors plan any treatment for GWSS it would be conducted only after consideration and approval by the Board of Supervisors at a public meeting and after public hearings conducted at various times of day to allow for the most possible public input."

Our understanding is that such a provision will be added as a rider, and that we will be shown the draft of the workplan with it. However, we do not have any timeline for this, either.


Commissioner Whitaker has made it abundantly clear that economic issues are central to his work. While we don't suggest that they are not important, we submit to you, as we did to him, that public and environmental health cannot be compromised for the sake of any industry. While both issues need to be discussed, they need to be discussed separately with a commitment to: NO threat to public health. The economics can be worked out in relation to this commitment. Public health must never be compromised to help a nursery or grape grower make money.

It seemed obvious to us that Commissioner Whitaker feels "in the middle." He is, or knows that he will be, under a lot of pressure from the wine and landscaping industries to spray and drench .

In fact, the Santa Barbara Ag. Commissioner told one of our members the day before our meeting that, "The vineyard industry wants a rapid response. They would like spray rigs warmed up and by the barn, waiting," and indeed Ag. Commissioners statewide have regularly and openly stated that this whole panic was created by the wine industry out of fear. Several have seemed to suggest that this fear is really unwarranted and blown way out of proportion.


We do not mean to downplay unnecessary crop loss but consider this: two geologists, Jane Nielson and Howard Wilshire decided to visit Temecula within a month of the first sprayings of this program, which had occurred in mid-March of last year. They reported that they did not see devastation, and where they did see some dead vines it was in areas which were inappropriately-planted... rocky soil, on hills without bothering to contour plant, facilitating soil and nutrient runoff. And many of the vines were planted right up to old groves of citrus, long-acknowledged as one of the GWSS's favorite host plants.

Unhealthy soil, unnecessarily-stressed vines, chemically-grown plants, and soil erosion. Of course they have problems in Temecula... and of course they have problems in Sonoma and Napa Counties, but should we be blaming a little insect? Let's look at the growers setting themselves up for infestations due to unhealthy growing methods. And consider organic wine grape growers like Michael Topolos (of Sonoma County) who is creating barriers of juicy host plants which will draw the GWSS to feed at the barriers rather than on his vines. Typical clear and calm thinking from the organics world. One after another of organic farmers has said that the GWSS is not a problem, nor is it the cause of Pierce's Disease, which has been with us well over 100 years. It is only a vector for disease. Generally healthy people do not catch every virus or bacterium to which they are exposed, nor do healthy vines. And CDFA has seemed uninterested in considering infested rootstock as possibly a bigger concern regarding Pierce's Disease. We hope our Ag. Commissioner will resist wine industry pressure in favor of public health.


We believe that, as elected officials, the Board of Supervisors is a more appropriate public entity to be overseeing the Pierce's Disease Control Plan. The GWSS is an insect that poses no threat to human or animal health, only to some parties' economics. Yet, the relied-upon plan for eradication poses great threat to human and animal health (and, yes, to the environment).


This issue becomes deeper when we learn that even the threat to the wine industry's economic health is a TEMPORARY one. Having made the effort to speak with many California entomologists recently, we have learned that the infestation in southern California has subsided. Very few GWSS are to be found this year (reported to us as one insect per field, and almost 100% of GWSS egg masses nullified by naturally occurring parasites). Doubts about the GWSS' ability to thrive this far north were widely expressed. It seems clear that this is an unnecessary panic over a short-lived problem. However, once the money train starts rolling, it is hard to stop. A $750,000 contract has just been signed with a high-powered PR firm, Goddard- Claussen Porter Novelli, which will soon be flooding the media with alerts about this so-called "unprecedented threat to California agriculture." Outrageous as this is, it would not be such a concern were the potential for serious damage not so great.

$36 million dollars in State and Federal emergency money was allotted to this plan last year, and at least as much is going to be requested this year, this time from regular (non-emergency) sources, and the option of extending the six-year plan is open. If this money were to be spent on non-toxic methods of control, it could initiate a long-overdue reversal of the trend to use more and more toxic substances.


We suggest that you obtain and read the workplan, available from the Agriculture Department. Based closely on the CDFA's model workplan, it outlines the State's SIX-YEAR plan, involving multiple sprayings (some homes have already been sprayed four times).

Thank you for your consideration of this serious matter. As the Pest Management Program Coordinator of the San Francisco Department of the Environment said recently, "The world has changed since the days of the medfly spraying." For one thing, we know more about the dangers of pesticides. We hope we can rely on you to help the Alameda Agriculture Department (and even the CDFA) get the message.

Sincerely, members of East Bay Pesticide Alert
(Please contact Maxina Ventura (510) 895-2312,
or Maura Hagerty)

Also sent via email (where possible), including cc:s to the following:

Earl Whitaker, Alameda County Ag. Commissioner
James Newey, Assistant. Ag. Commissioner
Adolph Martinelli, Director of Alameda County Development Agency
Lane Bailey, Director of Operations Alameda County Development Agency
Catherine Lundy, of Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel's office
Cheryl Pascual, Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker's Assistant
Lara Bice, of Supervisor Keith Carson's Office
Kriss Worthington , Berkeley City Councilmember