Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley took his gubernatorial quest to a strawberry field outside Oxnard on Friday, promising farmers that as the state's chief executive he would aggressively court foreign markets for California crops.
Seated with five farmers at a lace-covered card table on the edge of a fragrant strawberry field, Bradley derided incumbent Gov. George Deukmejian, his Republican rival, as a mere "talker" when it comes to aiding the troubled farm industry.
"We've got to do more," Bradley said. "There is a need for the governor . . . to fight for the interests of the farmers of California, when legislation is pending, when trade barriers are causing problems, when there is a threat of competition."
But the farmers, gathered for an informal round-table talk with the visiting Bradley, threw the mayor a curve when they criticized both existing regulations limiting their use of pesticides and a voter initiative on the November ballot that stiffens penalties against toxic polluters.
Bradley campaign strategists, along with environmentalists, drafted the initiative that qualified for the ballot only the day before. Bradley campaign officials have been trying to shore up their support among environmentalists and hope the presence of the initiative will help him unseat Deukmejian.
But the farmers expressed concern to Bradley that chemicals they depend on in their fields will be considered toxic under the initiative.
"There's a lot of problems I see," Tom Dullam, who farms six acres of flowers and operates greenhouses that supply flowers to nurseries, told the mayor. "I feel it's going to be a very serious law. It might have to be years before we can adapt."
Bob Brooks, a vegetable grower, assailed the number of pesticide regulations that farmers have to contend with, adding with chagrin that "we've got more environmentalists here probably than in all the other states combined."
Bradley did not defend the initiative before the farmers, but when asked about their complaints afterward, he said they pointed up the need for more understanding of the measure.
"I think it demonstrates we've got a task on our hands to help everybody understand these things," he said. "Every effort has been made to anticipate these kinds of problems. No one can guarantee that everything has been thought of."
In an opening comment to the farmers and in answering their questions, Bradley sought to make an appeal to their pocketbooks. He said he sympathized with the growing competition between expensive California produce and lower-priced foreign crops. The solution, he said, is to create a greater export flow to countries in the Far East and Europe, where prices of California produce can be competitive.
Mission to Japan
He mentioned his mission to Japan last fall, which he said helped cement good trade relations between the City of Los Angeles and the Far East.
"I don't think we ought to rely or can rely upon the government in Washington to do the job alone," he said. "We ought to be prodding them."
The growers, their frustration with competition obvious, lobbied the mayor to help equalize the prices of California- and foreign-grown produce.
Vegetable grower Joe Terry said frozen Mexican-grown broccoli is sold in the United States for $7.50 a case. It costs him $9.50 to produce the same amount.
"(At those) prices, you're not going to compete," Terry told the mayor. "Let's make it even. That's all we ask."