A showdown between the city of Los Angeles and the state over aerial malathion spraying fizzled Monday as a judge delayed deciding the issue until Thursday, setting the scene for an eleventh-hour battle on whether spraying will proceed that night.
Superior Court Judge John Zebrowski said he saw no reason to decide Monday on the city's request for a restraining order against the state's aerial pesticide campaign, because no spraying is scheduled until Thursday.
City Councilman Joel Wachs, who has been leading Los Angeles' charge to stop malathion spraying, was quick to cast the delay in a positive light, saying this is the first time a request for a temporary restraining order on the spraying issue has survived in the courts longer than a day.
"We are very pleased," Wachs said before a mass of television cameras at the downtown County Courthouse. "This is the first time that a judge hasn't summarily turned (a lawsuit) down."
Attorneys for the state were less moved, saying that Zebrowski's decision meant nothing more than that the judge needed time to digest the scientific and legal evidence presented by both sides.
"This isn't a decision," said Deputy Atty. Gen. Charles Getz. "I think the judge wants to read the papers."
The city is requesting a restraining order because it claims that the mixture of malathion and fly bait contains lead, nickel and chromium in levels exceeding those allowed under Proposition 65, a state measure passed in 1986 that restricts the discharge of toxic materials.
The city has filed the suit against the helicopter company that is conducting the spraying under contract with the state, which is exempt from Proposition 65.
State officials have argued that concentrations of lead, nickel and chromium in the spray mixture are minuscule and pose no health threat.
A decision was also delayed Monday on what the state plans to do about the discovery of a new Medfly last week in Rosemead. Normally, the discovery of a single mated female fly would prompt immediate aerial spraying.
But Roy Cunningham, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist and chairman of the state's five-member Medfly Science Advisory Panel, said there are some questions about whether the fly was fertilized.
He said a decision should be made by agriculture officials this week after more testing of the trapped fly. If the fly turns out to be a fertilized wild female, Cunningham said it could be serious news for the eradication program because the fly was found in a neighborhood where the pest was supposedly eradicated.
"Disappointingly, it was found in an area that was well sprayed," he said.
In a related matter, the Assembly narrowly approved legislation Monday aimed at giving local residents more say over aerial pesticide spraying to combat the Medfly.
But opponents charged the governor could sidestep the proposed law by declaring a state of emergency and order spraying at will.
A key provision of the bill would require a public hearing in a targeted area before spraying could begin. Residents would have to be given six days' notice of the hearing. Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) argued the six-day notice was not enough time to let residents prepare a case against spraying.
A 42-24 vote, one more than required, was cast on the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Norm Waters (D-Plymouth). But Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) temporarily stopped the measure from going to the Senate by serving notice that he will seek reconsideration.