Tag Archives: city council

Another 9-11

June 2 2015 DPR public workshop Salinas, CA

June 2, 2015 California Department of Pesticide Regulation public workshop Cesar Chavez Library Salinas, CA

Our Safe Strawberry Working Group met last night at the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council Offices in Salinas with the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, Eric Lauritzen and seven other county, state, and federal pesticide regulatory officials. This meeting was a follow-up to the June 2 public meeting that overflowed the Cesar Chavez library in Salinas, one of  a series of workshops around the state conducted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to solicit public input from the communities most affected by pesticide use near public schools.  IMG_6317









Ag Commissioner Lauritzen began last night’s meeting with a request that the gathering be framed in a collaborative rather than an adversarial spirit. He gave assurances that county, state, and federal regulators are doing all they can to study the situation. Melissa, a teacher from Pajaro Valley’s Ohlone Elementary made it clear that, while the people in the room want to be respectful and collaborative, they have patiently waited for years for “further studies”. She told us about her colleague and friend who is battling cancer after teaching for years next to the fields, and she demanded immediate action to reduce pesticide exposure around schools, including implementation of mandatory one-mile buffer zones.IMG_6312

Buffer Zones Around Schools:
Currently, the state of  California has no standardized regulations regarding pesticide-free buffer zones between schools and chemical-intensive agricultural fields. Practice from one county to another varies widely. The state DPR representatives indicated that the matter is still “under study”, and that it will be a long time before their office sets any new rules for buffer zones. Safe Strawberry Working Group has countered with a proposal that, if the state cannot act to standardize adequate buffer zones in a timely manner, then the County ag commissioner should immediately set a buffer zone requirement of one mile for our local community.

State, County, and Federal Pesticide Regulators

Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner; Bob Roach Assistant Ag Commissioner; Karen Stahlman, Chief Deputy Ag Commissioner; Marylou Verder-Carlos, Assistant Director, California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR); George Farnsworth, Assistant Director, CDPR; Randy Segawa, Special Assistant, CDPR; Kathy Taylor, USEPA Region IX; Dr. Ed Moreno, Monterey County Public Health Officer

County Ag Commissioner Lauritzen stated that it is not within his power to set regulations on buffer zones.  One of the other officials said she thought that the city council and the planning commission are the agencies with that authority. However, according to Mark Weller, Director of the Safe Strawberry Working Group, it IS the legal authority of the county agricultural commissioner to make rules regarding buffer zones, granted in state code (Section 11503.5 of the Food and Agricultural Code), and city councils and planning commissions have no authority in pesticide matters. A representative of Sustainable Monterey challenged Lauritzen, stating that if the people asking him for better protection from pesticides were affluent white residents of Carmel rather than teachers and farmworkers from Salinas, he would act swiftly.

 A representative of the federal Environmental Protection Agency explained that all regulatory decisions have to be based on a careful cost-benefit analysis. She reminded the group that California agriculture provides a large percentage of California’s revenue. A person in the group asked where all that revenue is going,  and why can’t some of that money be used to provide better notification of pesticide applications to communities.IMG_6324

Call to Action:
According to Lauritzen, the Salinas school board recently purchased a tract of land adjacent to chemical-intensive agricultural fields on Boranda Road and plans to build a new school there. Lauritzen showed a map of the proposed school site. The group expressed incredulity and outrage.

IMG_6330There will be hearings in the near future about the proposed new school. All are urged to get involved by attending the hearings, as well as contacting the school board, the city council, and the planning commission. In addition, no matter where you live or how old you are, if you’re concerned about pesticide exposure near schools, please sign the Californians for Pesticide Reform petition calling for the Santa Cruz and Monterey County Agriculture Commissioners to require one mile buffer zones around schools.

Another 9-11:
A recent 9-11 call from school personnel who were afraid that a neighboring farmer was spraying toxic pesticides brought an immediate response of police and rescue personnel. The call was, according to the ag commissioner, an expensive false alarm: the spray the farmer was using while disking his field was water.  Everyone in the room agreed that more effective communication between growers and the community is needed.IMG_6316Observing the interaction between regulators and activists, I felt I perceived glimmers of the professional masks beginning to melt and crack open in the extreme heatwave we’ve been experiencing this week. There is still a wide gap between points of view, a lack of understanding between the two sides of the room, but I thought I saw glimpses last night of the real human faces under the masks – vulnerable, afraid. Worried about the future of their children, their families. Concerned about the future of agriculture, and the future of the world. I sensed in the room last night that everyone – pesticide regulators and citizens – has now at least started to hear on some level the 9-11 call that is going out all over the planet.

No one in the room last night mentioned Climate Change, but after the meeting I had a private conversation in the parking lot with one of the CAL DPR scientists. She told me that when the US does ban a toxic chemical, it’s usually re-marketed overseas –  that she’s from the Philippines and has experienced this in her own country. She acknowledged that the problems we now face with agriculture are not just local, but global. Chemical intensive ag, heavily dependent on fossil fuels from production to shipping and distribution, cannot be sustained. As our global climate changes, the geography of arable land is shifting. It’s urgent that we redesign our agricultural system now to adapt to the changes coming. We must learn how to frame this challenge collaboratively. We must learn how to grow food without further harming our land and ourselves. We must learn to see one another – all beings  – not as adversaries but as interconnected and interdependent relations, each an essential thread in the web of life.  This  is a 9-11 call for our planet. It is not a false alarm. We need to act now to save all that we love.

Pesticides And Schools Video (short)

Full Video from the meeting @ https://youtu.be/1cd2ubxHWNk

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when fiction bleeds into reality

I attended a lecture last night at UCSC on Brain, Mind, and Consciousnes – part of a fascinating week-long conference. The speakers were Nora Bateson, daughter of Gregory Bateson (An Ecology of Mind) and Dr. David Presti, neuroscientist and UC Berkley professor, who has been teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks in India at the request of the Dali Lama. Their main message was about the complexity, vastness, and interconnectedness of Everything, and the need to love, respect, and pay attention – macro and micro, interior and exterior, known and unknown – to all that is part of this Oneness with which we are in relationship.

Well, mind and consciousness is a pretty interesting subject. Apparently there is growing mainstream interest in brain research. The issue of traumatic brain injury is receiving more attention as it is coming to light that so many of our people serving in the armed forces in the Middle East are coming home with untreated, undiagnosed traumatic brian injury – “the invisible injury”. One thing these injuries can do is blast open the “doors of perception”.

Some of us – including many writers and artists – seem to experience an open door to altered perception even without psychotropic drugs or brain injury. I have recently had a direct experience of “altered reality” – a kind of bleed-through of my novel. One of my fictional characters came through into and interacted with – well, what we refer to as “reality”. There are numerous entertaining stories and films about novelists whose characters “come to life” – the Pygmalion plot line. That’s kind of what recently happened to me.

Here’s my experience:

A theme in my novel, The Death of the Gecko is that family farmers are under enormous pressure to develop and concrete-ize prime farmland, but our farmland and food security must be protected. In the novel, the protagonist, Watsonville teacher Ms. Aurora Bourne, gets involved in the struggle that actually took place in the ’90’s to prevent development of a large and fragile parcel of farmland and wetlands. In my novel, Ms. B attends a meeting where people are discussing the need to protect the land. As I wrote the scene, a character began to speak and I “took dictation”. The fictional character whose voice “came through” was far more articulate and well informed than I am. Later, I checked his facts and was astounded by his information and reasoning, which somehow far surpassed my own. Recently, I learned that the Watsonville City Council is on a mission now, a decade later, to do the same kind of concrete box store “development” of sensitive farmland that was blocked in the 90’s and described in my novel. I was moved to write a letter excerpting the argument of the character from my novel. His argument against developing today, in reality, holds up well enough that the Register-Pajaronian just printed it as an opinion piece on their editorial page. My perception is that the letter was not in “my” words, but the the words of the fictional character that “bled through”. He had something very important to say. I feel honored to have been a channel for his words, and I hope they’ll be effective in helping to protect our farmland.

A friend who recently read my manuscript commented that she thought no one but locals would be interested in the story of the struggle over the Tai Property in Watsonville. I think it is a universal issue – loss of our pricious fertile farmland is a problem all over the planet. Seeing how one community protects their land may inspire others. What do you think?

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