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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Spraying: Democratic Process Imperiled

On the scale of my concerns, I generally have a much stronger interest locally and even globally on issues of civil rights and human rights, than I do on issues of growth. I would consider myself a tree-hugger, a nature-lover, and an environmentalist, but my passion rests with ensuring that all people have the same rights and access to opportunity, protection, education and services regardless of race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

In terms of the issue of West Nile Spraying, I honestly do not know where I would come down on this issue. I am concerned that we probably have not done enough longitudinal studies on the long term effects of these chemicals on human physiology, but I also tend to believe we are probably exposed to much more dangerous toxins on an everyday basis--something that should give everyone pause.

One thing though that became crystal-clear on Tuesday was the utter inability of democratically elected official to stop the actions of an unelected bureaucracy. In this case, the democratically elected Davis City Council claimed it had no power to stop the actions of the Sacramento are vector control board. As a democrat, small "d" and a populist, I find this absolutely appalling and frightening.

The message that the Davis City Council sent to its constituents is that they had no control. No control over timing, over spraying locations, over anything.

Perhaps more frightening to me is that they seemed alright with this arrangement. It seemed almost as though it was a sense of relief because with control comes responsibility, and this gave them the ability to say to the public, that it was out of their hands and we just had to accept that an external agency could determine when and what chemicals to dump on our heads. Again, this is a frightening notion.

In the end, I do not agree with the council's assessment of our situation. Let me suggest four strategies that probably could have prevented or at least delayed spraying.

First, the City Council could have made a formal request to the vector control board to delay or cancel the spraying. How would the vector control board have responded? Would they have continued? We do not know. It was not attempted though. It's easy to throw your hands up in the air though when the Council basically agrees with the action. That's fine, but do not make the claim that you can do nothing about it.

Second, if the vector control board refused, the City Council as an elected body could have appealed to whomever does have control over the vector control board. Again, I do not know if this would have worked, but again it was not attempted.

Third, and most drastically, the City Council could have asked City Attorney Harriett Steiner to go to court and ask for an injunction against the spraying until a judge could hear whether the city had any control over spraying conducted within city limits. Again, I believe that this action would have at least postponed the spraying and it would have asserted the power of the city over an unelected bureaucracy. Or at the very least it would have forced a court to make the determination over who gets control over local level decisions such as these.

Finally, as a long term strategy, the city could lobby the State Legislature and the Governor to make changes in the way that State Agencies interact with cities on matters such as these. This is a longer term strategy obviously, but what this would basically do is prevent a repeat of this.

Again, the concern here is not necessarily to stop the spraying so much as to regain the control of the elective body over the issue of when to spray.

The city council made the claim that they do not have the expertise or staff support to make such decisions, however, I believe they could hire a consultant to advise on this issue. It is crucial that a body who is accountable to the voters in Davis have the ultimate say in such serious matters as health and safety. Again, the lack of accountability means that the public is basically powerless on this issue. That we have no control over the chemicals that are literally dumped on our heads this evening. I find that lack of control to be the scariest of all aspects of this ordeal.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting