Opponents of strawberry fumigant methyl iodide push supes for county action.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Fumigation season in Monterey County came and went without an application of methyl iodide. But just as growers prep fields for winter plantings, the controversy over the fumigant is factoring into local political calculus. The Board of Supervisors has been asked to take a stance against methyl iodide.
After meetings with supervisors, methyl iodide opponents expected an imminent board resolution against the chemical. Supervisor Simon Salinas asked the board to take up the issue at a Nov. 1 meeting. But now county staff say they don’t expect action until December – a delay anti-pesticide activists blame on the ag lobby.
Dana Perls, a community organizer with Pesticide Watch, sent a Nov. 10 email to supporters calling on “methyl iodide warriors… to amp up this battle.”
“Simon Salinas is being chicken,” she wrote.
The anti-methyl camp had expected Salinas to push forward an agenda item within a couple of weeks, following the unanimous Nov. 8 vote by the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors for a resolution “urging Gov. Brown to reexamine the registration of methyl iodide for agricultural use in California.”
Perls criticizes Salinas-based law firm Lombardo & Gilles, which represents a number of ag clients, for intimidating Simon Salinas. “If the resolution passes and they are unhappy, they need to talk to [Gov.] Jerry Brown,” Perls says. “I do not believe Big Ag has been left out of the discussion.”
Managing partner Jeff Gilles says he asked Salinas to hear ag’s perspective. “This isn’t about a chemical; this is about a process,” he says. “The main concern I have is lack of transparency.”
Local activist Carole Erickson of the Safe Strawberry Working Group, who’s met with Salinas multiple times in recent months, thought the resolution was in the bag. “[Lombardo & Gilles] are trying to subvert things before they get too far,” she says.
But Salinas urges patience. “You can’t ask us to shove something down people’s throats,” he says. “It might take a couple of months.”
He referred the agenda item to County Administrative Officer Lew Bauman, who in turn asked Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen to engage stakeholders and prepare a report for the board.
Supervisor Fernando Armenta also got involved. “I talked to Supervisor Salinas and we agreed, ‘Let’s pull back a little bit and let stakeholders meet,’” he says. “Is it worth having some kind of political war or major friction with the ag community?”
A county resolution is largely symbolic, and doesn’t trump the California Department of Pesticide Regulation rules allowing methyl iodide applications. “This really isn’t under the purview of the county,” Bauman says.
But Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) counters: “I think it’s an appropriate issue for the board to consider.”
Organizers are still pursuing a county resolution, arguing local governments can pressure Brown to reassess the state’s approval of methyl iodide.
“It’s definitely on the radar,” says California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.
For now, supervisors are caught between competing political pressures. Members of the United Farm Workers, which opposes methyl iodide, have met with both Armenta and Salinas regarding the resolution. “Does the UFW order me around? No. Do they heavily influence me? Obviously,” Armenta says. “There is loyalty. They helped me win 11 years ago.”
Meanwhile, state regulators and the courts are left to decide what, if anything, to do about the Santa Cruz resolution.
DPR spokeswoman Lea Brooks writes by email: “DPR will continue to evaluate the effect of the use of methyl iodide in California. If new information of concern comes to light, DPR has the authority to require further restrictions, suspend use or move to cancel the registration.”