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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Blaming the moth spray for illness, recycling those Christmas trees and more.

The Sick List

Critics of the state's plan to continue aerially spraying pheromones to combat the light brown apple moth have come out with a list of 509 health complaints never before released to the public, adding to an earlier list of 134 complaints released in October. The reports of illness were gathered from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties between late October and mid-November. The critics, organized under the name California Alliance to Stop the Spraying (CASS), note that many of the complaints are informal and were filed by lay people, not physicians. The state and county, by contrast, are only accepting reports of pesticide-related illness filled out by doctors, so many of these new reports do not officially count in the government's eyes.

Mike Lynberg, an author and communications specialist for ROI Communications, thinks that policy may be misguided and decided to gather the reports from everyone he could, whether or not a doctor was involved. He believes many people don't have the financial resources or time to visit a doctor, and that those complaints filed by laypersons should be taken seriously.

"There are so many and they're so similar, and people are so convinced that because it came so close to the spraying that there is something that needs to be looked at," he argues. "Let's err on the side of caution."

Reports of illness ranged from eye irritation to severe skin rashes and swollen glands.

In order to track down all possible incidents of pheromone-related illness, Lynberg first contacted the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), which gave him copies of 317 complaints, 52 of which were filled out by doctors (the CDFA gathers all complaints but only officially counts those submitted by doctors). As he was collecting these figures, Lynberg set up a post office box and email address. In short order he'd received 290 complaints.

Additionally, Lynberg collected the names of those complaining of illness from a petition circulated by Santa Cruz County resident John Russo. An unidentified individual also circulated a similar petition in front of a local homeless shelter. These complaints, along with 36 official physician reports received by the Santa Cruz County Agriculture Commissioner, made up the total of 643.

Throughout this entire process, Lynberg only eliminated one complaint as unrelated to the pesticide. He checked back with some of those who signed the petitions, but admits he didn't have a way to sort out which complaints were legitimate.

"I'm not a doctor," he says. "I'm not trying to say conclusively that every one of these symptoms was caused by the spraying, but I think it's enough to say, 'Let's slow down and look closer at this.'"

In light of these new reports, Lynberg and other members of CASS are calling for the county Health Services Agency (HSA) to increase its educational outreach to local health providers so they'll know what symptoms to look for. They also want the HSA to create an avenue to document pheromone-related illnesses among the uninsured and immigrant populations.

Currently, the HSA is collecting physician reports related to the spraying as part of the county's lawsuit against CDFA.

Dr. Poki Namkung, Santa Cruz County health officer, says there are currently no plans to change the state-mandated policy of only accepting reports filed by doctors. She says she is hesitant about reaching out to the uninsured and immigrant populations because the HSA is already deep in debt and there is little money to expand outreach operations without cutting into other services.

Namkung also says that with 11 more counties scheduled for spraying next spring, the issue has become a regional one. "This isn't an exclusively Santa Cruz County problem anymore," she says. "All of the affected health agencies will be meeting with the state in the near future to study this issue. Once the science is reviewed by reputable people, the counties together will be making a decision on the next course of action."

Notes on the Vote

With Santa Cruz and everywhere else preparing for a year of contentious elections, UCSC is offering a free two-part documentary series to remind voters about the fragility of the democratic process. The first film in the series, American Blackout, reviews the suspicious series of events in Florida during the 2000 elections and in Ohio during the 2004 elections. In both instances, long lines and purged voter lists ended up impacting predominately African-American and Democratic inner-city precincts more severely than the mostly white suburbs. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reports that in Florida, 54 percent of the ballots discarded because optical scanners could not read them came from African-American voters. In Ohio, journalist and politics professor Bob Fitrakis finds that 125 voting machines mysteriously went missing, mostly from inner city neighborhoods. In one example, he investigates Columbia ward 1b, an area that was represented by Democrats on the City Council and in the Legislature. This ward had two fewer machines in 2004 than in 2000 despite a 27 percent increase in voter registrations there.

The second film, the Emmy award-winning Hacking Democracy, examines the effectiveness of electronic voting systems and finds them highly vulnerable to tampering.

American Blackout will be shown Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 7pm at Cowell Dining Hall, UCSC. Hacking Democracy shows Tuesday, Jan. 29, at 7pm at Stevenson Event Center. Films are free; parking is $2.

Feeling Chipper

For a young and sensitive Nu_z, the tear-jerking power of Hans Christian Andersen's tale The Fir Tree stood right up there with Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows. How abandoned the poor fir tree felt on the day after Christmas, when it was unceremoniously stripped of its trimmings and dumped in the back yard! How it longed to feel loved again! What a cruel world!

Alas, like many of those harsh Old World "fairy" tales, this one spoke of an unflattering truth: that for all the fun of decorating a tree, no one puts any thought into disposing of it.

"We don't have any ceremony around taking the tree down," says Robert Binkley, who, with his wife, Jill, has started California Christmas Tree Recycling. While the Binkleys won't take the ornaments off and box them up, they will come into your house, bag up your tree and—big-time bonus—vacuum up the needles for just $25 ($20 sans Hoovering). Then they cart the tree off to be recycled. All you have to do is watch. Surfrider Foundation gets a portion of the proceeds.

Service lasts until Jan. 13 or until it isn't needed anymore. For more info, call 831.621.8012 or email [email protected]


Boatamo Mosupyoe knows conflict; her husband and child were killed during South Africa's struggle to free itself of apartheid. Mosupyoe, however, did not surrender to bitterness. Instead she devoted her life and studies to exploring mediation as an alternative to violence. On Thursday, Jan. 10, Mosupyoe, who serves as Africa studies program director at CSU-Sacramento and on Global Majority's International Advisory Board, will present case studies in conflict resolution from Africa. The 7:30pm lecture at the Vets Hall, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz, is presented by the Resource Center for Nonviolence; $5-$10 suggested donation; 831.423.1626. Two days later, The State of the Queer Union presents Assemblyman John Laird and attorneys Eileen Hamilton and Emily Trexel giving updates on queer legislation, marriage, taxes and more. Saturday, Jan. 12, 3-5pm at the Community Room of the SC Police Department, 155 Center St. 831.515.4101.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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