Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Pesticide use is a local issue

Over the past few months, local communities across California, especially in Marin County, battled the state of California to stop aerial pesticide spraying for the light brown apple moth (LBAM).

Ten local governments in Marin passed resolutions in opposition to the state's spray program, joining a grassroots movement of tens of thousands of people across the state who opposed the spray. Aerial spraying is off the table over urban areas for now, though many questions remain about the future of the LBAM eradication program.

The question that must be posed is: What happens when the next pest, real or exaggerated, comes along? What happens when state officials again refuse to listen to local community concerns and impose dangerous and insensible pest and pesticide policy?

As was made clear by the LBAM struggle, local governments deserve the tools to better regulate pesticides to protect the health and safety of their communities.

We do know that history repeats itself. In the 1980s, Mendocino County stood up for the health and safety of its citizens by passing an ordinance to restrict the use of aerial pesticides, after aerial pesticide spray applications drifted a significant distance onto school buses. Industry representatives sued to overturn the ordinance, but the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mendocino's right to protect its residents. Unfortunately, pesticide industry lobbyists soon undid that ruling by fasttracking special-interest legislation which divested local government of the authority to address toxic pesticides. Since 1984, the state government has used that statute to quash local efforts to restrict the use of toxic pesticides.

Assembly Bill 977, recently introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, will ensure the right of local government to have some degree of control over pesticide use in our communities.

Seven years ago, Fairfax passed a Neighborhood Notification ordinance so that residents could protect their health and property from toxic pesticides.

Despite intensive legal threats from the state of California, the town of Fairfax stood up for the right of its residents to protect themselves from toxic pesticide use in their community. Assemblywoman Ma's legislation will restore the right of all California communities to enact similar pesticide regulations.

Fairness and reason dictate that local residents should be free to make their own decisions regarding pesticide use and exposure within their communities. Whether pesticides are used on our lawns to control invasive plants on Tam, or at our schools and places of work, they pose severe health and environmental risks that are in need of serious study and legal reform.

Progress only can be made if we encourage and protect the right of local communities to protect themselves when higher levels of government refuse to do so.

In the face of the Bush administration's failure to address global warming, Gov. Schwarzenegger and our state Legislature passed landmark legislation to protect the Sierra snow pack and the California coastline.

There is no less of an urgent need to protect the health and safety of our communities from toxic pesticide pollution by granting local government the authority to act.