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Los Angeles Files Own Suit Against Medfly Spraying

February 23, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Legal challenges to the state’s urban pesticide spraying program cropped up like pesky Medflies on Thursday as officials in Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena moved to stop the rain of malathion.

Under orders from the Los Angeles City Council, City Attorney James Hahn filed a Superior Court lawsuit seeking an immediate halt to the helicopter missions to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly.

The lawsuit, filed jointly with the cities of Burbank and Glendale, seeks a court order halting the spraying missions. It names Gov. George Deukmejian, the state Department of Food and Agriculture, department director Henry Voss and the County Board of Supervisors as defendants.

It alleges the malathion missions violate residents’ civil rights because the public has a right to be free of toxic chemical risks to their health.

Agriculture officials maintain the pesticide is safe and warn that the Medfly, if established, could produce annual losses of $200 million to the state’s agricultural industry.

The lawsuit also contends that the agriculture department has violated pest eradication statutes requiring that non-pesticide alternatives be used before officials resort to spraying. In addition, the chopper sorties violate public nuisance regulations by creating excessive noise and damaging property, the suit alleges.

The city of Pasadena planned to file an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit.

Deukmejian met in Pasadena on Thursday with Pasadena and Glendale city officials, but the discussion yielded no agreements on the pesticide program or on a provocative new Pasadena ordinance prohibiting low-level helicopter flights at night.

The Republican governor said he was confident the cities’ suits would fail, adding,″The courts have consistently supported the position taken by the state.″

Meanwhile, the private Natural Resources Defense Council and a host of state legislators filed a second Superior Court action challenging Deukmejian’s state of emergency decree enabling officials to spray the Medfly- killing pesticide over 400 square miles of Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Helicopters were to take to the skies again Thursday night to blanket a 30- square-mile area of the Verdugo hills in Burbank and Glendale as part of the state’s $30 million Medfly eradication campaign.

In Pasadena, City Attorney Victor Kaleta said he was awaiting a police report that could enable him to file criminal misdemeanor complaints against six helicopter pilots who conducted a spraying mission over the city early Thursday.

The private pesticide sortie entered city air space at 12:55 a.m. Thursday. It was tracked flying at 500 feet, violating a new city ordinance that bans helicopterr flights below 700 feet.

A police helicopter pilot contacted the formation, informed its pilots they were violating the ordinance, and ordered them to cease and desist. The pilots acknowledged they were in violation but continued spraying.

The police pilot flew to the helicopter base at El Monte and informed the pilots that police would seek the complaints, said Lt. Gregg Henderson.

With sufficient evidence, Katela said his office could file complaints possibly next week. The maximum penalty for violating the ordinance is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

But the Federal Aviation Administration has said that only it can enforce laws regarding civil air traffic, and attorneys from the agency have met with Katela, said FAA spokeswoman Elly Brekke.

″We told him it was our interpretation that their ordinance was preempted by federal law,″ said Brekke, citing the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

She said that under rules regarding crop dusting aircraft and aircraft for hire, ″There is no minimum altitude at which they must fly. The rules say the pilot must fly the helicopter in such a way that if there were an emergency aboard the aircraft, the pilot would be able to land the aircraft safely,″ said Brekke.

″The bottom line is that the altitude is at the pilot’s discretion,″ she said.

In addition to the Los Angeles lawsuit, the Orange County cities of Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster have sued in Superior Court.

A judge refused their request to stop spraying immediately, but ordered the state to provide more information on malathion.

The Legal Aid Society of Orange County filed suit in federal court, arguing the spraying violates the civil rights of homeless people who are unable to take health precautions if they are doused with pesticide.

The Medfly lays its eggs in more than 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in California. The crops are destroyed when the larvae hatch and growing maggots eat their way out.

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