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Neighbors Buzz About Insect Intruder

Times Staff Writer

At first, Dave Jenett didn’t tell the neighbors. It was not the kind of news he wanted to announce.

But when everybody in the neighborhood noticed the white county and state agriculture trucks parked around his house, the word was out.

It was in Jenett’s wide-branched guava tree, in his neatly tended garden in the area known as Beverlywood, that a Mediterranean fruit fly was found Sept. 26.

That fly--and 47 others subsequently found in the area--led to a five-hour aerial spraying last week over a 35-square-mile swath of Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Culver City and parts of West Los Angeles.

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Today, agricultural officials plan to begin releasing 40 million sterile Medflies in phase two of the state’s war on this latest infestation of the insect.

Since the day when the fly was discovered, inspectors have stopped by daily to check traps at Jenett’s house, his one and only guava has been confiscated and dissected for scientific study, and he has been the subject of some gentle ribbing from the neighbors.

“My neighbors, when they go by, point their fingers at me. They call me Mr. Medfly,” Jenett said with a laugh.

“I’m smiling now,” he added, “but I’m glad they found flies somewhere else, too.”

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Some of Jenett’s neighbors--along with many of the 100,000 people who live in the targeted area--weren’t too happy about the aerial spraying.

“I think it’s a total violation of our rights,” said neighbor Larry Ellis, a 35-year-old businessman with a 2-year-old child. “We don’t know the true effects of this stuff.”

State agriculture officials have assured residents that doses of the insecticide malathion dropped over the Westside were not harmful to people or warm-blooded animals. They did warn people, however, to cover their cars because of possible damage to the paint.

Dave and Gladys Jenett have owned their one-story beige stucco house on Canfield Avenue for 19 years. It is a neighborhood of wide streets, trim lawns and a few lemon, pomegranate, orange, guava and nectarine trees.

Most years, the Jenetts’ guava tree yields pounds and pounds of the small, round fruit. This year, they said, the tree bore only the one guava.

“The irony was that it was the first time in 19 years we haven’t had a guava crop,” Gladys Jenett said. “And we have a Medfly. I was just astounded.”

About eight years ago, the county set up two Medfly traps in the couple’s guava tree, one of several random spots chosen for monitoring. An inspector checked the traps every Tuesday.

After the Medfly was found Sept. 26, officials returned to spray the Jenetts’ property and the adjacent ones. They removed several samples of fruit and finally dissected the Jenett’s lone guava, “put it in plastic and took it away,” although no Medfly was found inside, Dave Jenett said. Ten days later, the aerial spraying took place.

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Although parts of the San Fernando Valley were sprayed with malathion this summer after Medflies were discovered there, officials said there is no connection between that infestation and the Westside appearance of the bug. They speculate that Medflies got to the Westside when someone smuggled fruit or nuts illegally from Hawaii, or that one might have arrived in the mail, if an area resident received a package of fruit from Hawaii.

Jenett, a self-described “repairman to the stars” who goes by the name of “Mr. Fix-it” on a radio phone-in show on do-it-yourself house repairs, said he has not received any fruit from Hawaii.

“If it truly was my responsibility, I’d feel terrible,” he said. “The state is spending millions of dollars on this. But I do feel good that they caught it in time.”

Los Angeles County Agriculture Commissioner E. Leon Spaugy said this week he is pleased with efforts so far to wipe out the bug, which is capable of destroying much of the state’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry.

“It’s a credit to the system that we were able to detect it as rapidly as we did,” Spaugy said.

Spaugy said about 8 million sterile Medflies will be released today and another 32 million over the next five days. An additional 50 million may be released the following week.

The flies are bred in a laboratory owned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture but located in Honolulu. In pupal stage, the flies are flown to the department’s Van Nuys headquarters, where they are reared to adulthood, a process of about four days.

“We can’t take the chance of (breeding the flies) in the state. We don’t want the facility here in case of an accident,” Spaugy said. Hawaii was chosen because it is one of several states where the Medfly is common.

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