2 Agencies Strive to Take Over Pest Abatement in L.B.

Times Staff Writer

In what is developing into a territorial skirmish over mosquitoes, two government agencies are swatting at each other over which of them would do a better job of combating the city’s mosquito population.

The Southeast Mosquito Abatement District, which oversees mosquito control in the central and northeastern sections of the city, wants authority over mosquitoes in the rest of Long Beach--now the province of the city Department of Health and Human Services. District officials contend the health department is too busy fighting other public health threats, such as rats, to pay sufficient heed to mosquitoes.

Local health officials have, for their part, taken umbrage at the suggestion that mosquitoes are running wild in their part of the city. They retort that the abatement district is attempting to justify its mosquito grab with error-strewn allegations that the city’s equipment, pesticides and vigilance are inferior.

The district has long wanted to bring Long Beach under one anti-mosquito umbrella--its own. Formed in 1952, the regional district assumed responsibility for what was then unincorporated county land in the Long Beach area. When the city annexed the land, the district retained mosquito jurisdiction, leaving Long Beach divided as far as mosquitoes were concerned.


Other Communities Served

What’s more, the city of Signal Hill, surrounded by Long Beach, is in the district, as are the cities to the north of Long Beach.

“We do a very extensive and thorough job of mosquito control,” Jack Hazelrigg, the district’s assistant manager and entomologist, said. While the city “does a good job,” Hazelrigg added, “we can do a better job.”

The district’s sole purpose in life is to keep mosquitoes in check, Hazelrigg stressed. It does that in 32 cities in Los Angeles County, along with unincorporated parts of the county.

Diana M. Bonta, recently appointed director of the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, says she has no vested interest in guarding the city’s mosquito turf. Nonetheless, she says she was disheartened at some of the district’s contentions and feels compelled to correct them.

She also points out that it would cost residents slightly more if they switched to the district, and she argues that a local, rather than a regional agency, is more likely to be responsive to residents’ complaints.

The arbiter of the matter, the City Council, has referred the district’s annexation request to its Public Safety Committee, which is holding hearings on the issue.

Undecided on Changes

“Personally, I haven’t found the city to be wanting,” Councilman Ray Grabinski, the committee’s chairman, said. Grabinski, whose West Long Beach district falls under the city’s jurisdiction, hastened to add that he had not decided whether any changes were in order.

The move to bring all of Long Beach into the district was bolstered last summer when West Long Beach residents were tormented by swarms of midges, gnat-like, flying insects that do not bite, but do bother people. “You didn’t want to open your mouth to breathe,” said Dan Cangro of the Wrigley Assn., a neighborhood group that complained to the council that the city’s bug-control efforts were not all they might be.

“It’s always been our contention that if we were under the mosquito (district) program, we wouldn’t have these problems. . . . The city has been pretty good, but it’s been on a case-by-case basis,” he said, arguing that the health department has neither the time nor the staff to devote as much attention to mosquito control as does the district.

Bonta, pointing out that midges are largely the responsibility of county flood control authorities, says residents are mistaken if they think the district will eliminate the midge nuisance.

The district is funded with annual property tax assessments of a couple of dollars on every parcel within the district. It would therefore not cost the city anything to relinquish its mosquito duties to the district.

But Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, also on the Public Safety Committee, argues that however small the fee, it will cost residents something. “I’m not particularly receptive to turning it over to the abatement district,” said Braude, whose shoreline district is within the health department’s territory. He, too, says he is satisfied with the department’s mosquito performance, although he agrees that a case can be made for consolidating mosquito control efforts in the city.

It costs the health department about $24,000 a year to run its mosquito program, a sum that would likely be spent on some other city expense were it not used on mosquitoes.

Testifying before the Public Safety Committee last month, Bonta complained that much of the district’s information about the city’s program “is simply incorrect.” For instance, she said that contrary to the district’s assertions, the department routinely sprays mosquito breeding areas and also uses biological controls, such as mosquito fish, which consume mosquito larvae.

Bonta further argues that since it is necessary for her department to monitor mosquito-borne diseases, the city should continue to wage some of Long Beach’s mosquito battles. It might even make sense to have the city take over the third of Long Beach now treated by the district, she said, adding that the costs of that move are being researched.