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A Berry Bad Thing

How bad does a pesticide have to be before the California Department of Pesticide Regulation locks it up and throws away the key? We'll soon find out. Last week a scientific review committee released a report on the fumigant methyl iodide, created by chemical company Arysta as an alternative to methyl bromide in strawberry fields. And what did that report say? A lot of things, many of them alarming in spite of the mannerly and scientific tone of the paper. We took a whack at translating a few key passages.

"It is abundantly clear from basic chemistry that methyl iodide reacts readily with macromolecules, including with DNA, creating long lasting changes. In DNA, the effects of these methylated additions are mutagenic events that ultimately give rise to cancer."

Translation: This shit causes cancer! That's really obvious!

"[L]arge variability in achieved protection is observed even through rigorous respirator application (e.g., under controlled experimental conditions)."

Translation: You can't guard against it. Even the guy in the lab with the well-fitting respirator got a blast of it in the tests.

"From [farmworker] testimony (predominantly from a group organized by growers), it was abundantly clear that respiratory protection, despite strict regulations on paper, is commonly inappropriate, inadequate, or inaccessible."

Translation: The farmworkers brought in by their bosses to testify before us last September didn't know what a respirator was, much less how to use one. Respirators won't save the farmworkers.

"Based on the data available, we know that methyl iodide is a highly toxic chemical and we expect that any anticipated scenario for the agricultural or structural fumigation use of this agent would result in exposures to a large number of the public and thus would have a significant adverse impact on the public health."

Translation: Spraying this uncontainable poison around oh, say, a town where people are trying to breathe will make a lot of people very ill.

Dr. Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist with Pesticide Action Network, says methyl iodide is more acutely toxic than methyl bromide and could cause cancer, thyroid disease and late-term miscarriages. She was also at the hearing in September 2009 when a group of field workers brought in by their employers, presumably to testify about the sufficiency of the safety training they'd received, inadvertently revealed just the opposite.

"What became clear during the hearing is that the workers didn't know what a respirator was. It was a very telling moment when they said, 'What kind of mask did you use?' And they said, 'Oh, one of those ones made of paper.' The growers got more than they bargained for."

The report will help the DPR decide whether to register methyl iodide as an allowable pesticide in California. That decision could in turn affect whether or not the DPR's federal counterparts at the Environmental Protection Agency will revoke their approval of methyl iodide, granted in October 2007. The EPA announced last September it would reopen its consideration of the pesticide pending the scientific review panel's report. Stay tuned.

—Traci Hukill

Overtime Blues

It may be the dead of winter, but summer is already on the minds of Watsonville city employees—specifically the June budget and the potential $5 million hole in it. At the Feb. 9 city council meeting, financial director Marc Pimentel blamed declining property taxes and the state and national budget crisis, but he also pointed out that police and fire overtime were a major stress on the city coffers. The fire department is projected to go $759,000 over budget and the police department $294,000, according to the report, and Pimentel estimates this is almost entirely due to overtime costs exceeding $1.5 million. Overtime hours have nearly doubled since 2007 and Pimentel called the trend "unsustainable."

There's not much wiggle room at the fire department, says Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee. "We're doing everything we can with what we've got," he says, adding that overtime hours are a given as long as the fire departments keeps "minimum constant staffing." That means whether someone takes a vacation or gets sick or injured, someone must be paid in overtime to pick up the slack. "We've calculated that if everybody just takes their minimum vacation, no sick leave or anything, that takes about $300,000," he says.

Then of course there are those pesky conditions under which overtime is a necessity—you know, fires. "We're going to do everything we can over the issues we have influence over," he says.

Things are slightly less tricky over at the Watsonville Police Department, where the overtime excesses are easily explained by the 2007 decision to switch to a three-day, 12-hour shift schedule for officers. "We went to an emergency schedule to help put more officers on the streets while low on staff," says Chief Manny Solano. "This 12-hour shift comes with built-in overtime." With eight hours built-in overtime per month paid at time and a half, the leap in overtime costs in the last three years is no mystery. Now, with eight new patrol officers trained and filling that gap, the force has been able to switch back to a more normal four-day, 10-hour shift, eliminating the built-in overtime. Solano estimates that should essentially do away with $300,000 worth of overtime, not to mention give officers a break.

"Twelve-hour days are very long days. Some officers have expressed, you know, appreciation to be able to go back to the 10-hour shift," he says.

—Jessica Lussenhop

Great Jumping Jaguars!

This Labor Day weekend, Surf City will play host to the first Santa Cruz Concours d'Elegance at Chaminade, drawing fancy cars from all over the Bay Area and giving Pebble Beach one less thing to lord over everyone else.

The benefit for Children's Hospice of Santa Cruz will take place Sept. 3–5 and feature all the necessary components of a sprawling lawn party: wine, good food, a fashion show, possibly an art show, maybe Rolls Royces. Definitely Ferraris. Almost certainly some beauties from the collection of local fancy car aficionado Bruce Canepa. All that appear to be missing are the croquet sets and lawn whites.

"It's still in the preliminary stages," says Chaminade sales director Sherrie Huneke. "We just came up with the dates. Hopefully this will be something that goes on year after year, but we're just getting our feet wet."

The idea, hatched by the community-minded people at Chaminade and Ocean Honda, bears close comparison to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance held each August on the Monterey Peninsula. Unlike that annual advertisement for the lifestyles of the rich and famous, however, this show will include muscle cars. So start polishing the GTO, kids. It's showtime.

—Traci Hukill

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