Ojai group's petition to governor yields new pesticide protections

Screen shot of the May 4 letter from Gov. Gavin Newsom to Jared Blumenfeld, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, published in the May 15 edition of the Ojai Valley News with the headline, "Gov. Newsom's response," which ran with the OVN article below.


Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter

Members of Regenerate Ojai – with the help of the Environmental Law Foundation and the Environmental Working Group – gained a major victory last week when California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation took a stand to protect residents from pesticide exposure at home as well as in schools.
Regenerate Ojai sent a letter to Newsom on April 23 asking that he treat every home as a school when it came to rules regarding pesticide applications. In response, Newsom directed all counties to tighten restrictions on pesticide spraying near homes to protect children from toxic pesticide drift while they participate in remote learning.
Newsom, along with California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld, reviewed the letter for a couple of weeks and came back with something that was “even bigger than what we were asking,” said Rebecca Tickell, an Ojai documentary filmmaker with a nearly completed documentary that shows the problems with pesticide and herbicide spraying and demonstrates an alternative.


“It was a much larger group than that,” Tickell said. “When we put out our newsletter letting people know through Regenerate Ojai that we had written this letter to the governor, we had over 1,000 people respond in 48 hours signing onto that petition here in the Ojai Valley.”
Newsom responded to their letter and directed the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to issue guidance to the state’s 58 county agriculture commissioners to enforce all applicable pesticide health protections around homes and schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, and prohibit pesticide applications when people not involved in the application process may be contaminated.
Tickell said: “The big win from his letter is he was saying that it’s time that we move on beyond these danger- and hazard-label chemicals. It’s time that we find a smarter way to deal with the Asian Citrus Psyllid, because there is no real science that can show that the way that we’re going about dealing with it is actually going to stop the Asian Citrus Psyllid from coming back after we’ve completely sprayed our entire valley and the people in it with these chemicals.” 
In studies on the ACP in Florida, they have found the only way to combat the pest is through creating soil health, Tickell said. “Regenerative agriculture, having soil health can help create immunity for the tree … and allow it to survive when faced not just with the Asian Citrus Psyllid, but whatever the next pest is that might come our way,” she added.
Violators will be fined up to $5,000 “per person per incident.” In the past, each violation of pesticide use was treated as a single violation, regardless of the number of people affected and did not prioritize homes or schools. 


According to Adam Vega, coordinator of the Ventura County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety, “This order recognizes the extraordinary importance of reducing the threat of pesticide exposure among California’s most vulnerable communities during this COVID-19 crisis with a focus on growing a strong, climate-smart agricultural economy while transitioning away from the use of harmful chemicals.”
This is a great opportunity for Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Ed Williams to realize the concerns of Ventura County are not being met in the way that it has been currently managed, Tickell said. 
“We really feel like this gives us some ground to stand on to move forward with creating that notification program, which is what we feel is the very least that can be done as good neighbors, and as people who share the same airspace,” Tickell said. “Pesticides, they don’t just adhere to people’s boundary lines or property lines.”
“This administration has spoken about its commitment to California’s farmers, but that commitment under no circumstances should come down to a choice between who suffers more — the farmers or the farmworkers,” Vega said. “This is the perfect example, and opportunity, of what a working group on agriculture and essential workers could address immediately.”

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