State Moves Medfly Copter Base After Setback in O.C.


Even as Orange County supervisors unanimously opposed malathion spraying for the first time, state agriculture officials scrambled to keep their Medfly helicopters airborne Wednesday night.

Prevented by a court ruling from using the Fullerton Municipal Airport as a helicopter base, state officials, with just a few hours to spare, settled on Riverside Municipal Airport as a base for Wednesday night's scheduled applications around Garden Grove and Panorama City.

But the decision came with a price: The longer haul from Riverside to the spray zones meant that the helicopters had to refuel more often, spend more time in transit and finish their appointed rounds perhaps as late as 5:30 a.m. today in some areas around Panorama City in the San Fernando Valley.

The altered flight plan could end up costing the state thousands of dollars more and is "certainly a real nuisance" both for the helicopter pilots and for residents dealing with the noise well into the morning hours, said Don Henry, deputy director of the Medfly Project. But he added: "We'll deal with the cards that are dealt us. We needed to spray."

The state's last-minute quest for a helicopter base Wednesday morning came just as the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to demand "an immediate halt to all aerial pesticide spraying over urban areas."

It was the first time that the supervisors, struggling for a way to express themselves on the politically volatile issue, had taken such united opposition.

The board has grappled for months over what stance it should take on malathion spraying. Its expression of opposition, however, stopped short of directing the county's agricultural commissioner not to cooperate with the state-ordered spraying, a provision that was dropped in response to concerns by some supervisors.

Some activists criticized the board's action--coming just a week before the last scheduled Orange County application, in the Garden Grove zone on May 30--as too little, too late.

"It's not enough," said Claudia Klein, a Garden Grove resident who has helped organize anti-malathion protests. "We want drastic action, and Orange County has got to stand up and say, 'No, we won't allow this.' . . . And it's very late. I wish (the supervisors) could have helped us earlier, before we'd been poisoned eight times. The damage has been done."

The supervisors conceded that the resolution will not end the spraying.

Indeed, just the day before, on Tuesday, the board again voted 3 to 2 to extend the county's state of emergency for the state's Medfly eradication effort. The emergency proclamation was cited by state attorneys this week in their unsuccessful attempt to justify the state's authority for using the Fullerton Municipal Airport for spraying.

While Wednesday's resolution of opposition is largely symbolic, Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, a co-sponsor, said he hoped the cumulative effect of such statements from city and county governments would eventually cause the state to reconsider its aerial spray policy.

"Hurling words against a brick wall may not at first seem to make a lot of sense, but we're hoping it will have an eroding effect," Stanton said. "It's important to send this message out that we don't like this spraying."

Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, the resolution's other sponsor, agreed, calling the move a "2-by-4 to get the attention of our state legislators."

Fullerton officials already got the state's attention with their victory in court Tuesday, when Superior Court Commissioner Julian Cimbaluk refused to grant the state a temporary restraining order that would force Fullerton to open its airport to the Medfly helicopters.

State officials made plans to base the helicopters at the Fullerton airport after officials at El Monte airport forced the state's helicopters out of their five-month home because of noise complaints from neighbors.

The city had objected to the plan on grounds of safety and noise concerns. The decision marked the first time in Southern California's Medfly battle that the state has lost a legal challenge.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Clifford T. Lee said state officials decided Wednesday not to risk an appeal of Cimbaluk's ruling and will not try to get it overturned before the scheduled end of spraying in Los Angeles and Orange counties on June 13. Instead, he said, the state will at some later date pursue the matter in court to try to establish the government's emergency powers for using an airport such as Fullerton's for its operations.

"It's more for insurance, a long-term strategy, in case we have to deal with this question again," Lee said.

In the meantime, state officials will have to decide whether to use the Riverside Municipal Airport for the two remaining spray dates scheduled in Los Angeles and Orange counties, despite the distance.

For Wednesday night's spraying, agriculture officials also looked at airports in Burbank, Compton and Van Nuys, Henry said. But none of those sites worked out because of either logistic problems or local opposition, he said.

In the end, it was decided that the state would make do with the Riverside airport, largely because the equipment is already set up there. The state has been using the airport for its Riverside and San Bernardino aerial applications since April.

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