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County Again Tries to Form Mosquito Abatement District

January 26, 1989|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County, in a second effort to get 25 San Gabriel Valley cities or their residents to pay for mosquito abatement, took the first step Tuesday toward formation of a valleywide mosquito abatement district.

The Board of Supervisors, advised that a mosquito-borne encephalitis virus still exists locally, agreed to file an application to form a new San Gabriel Valley Mosquito Abatement District and to lobby valley cities to participate.

San Marino and South El Monte, which are already members of a mosquito district, and Pasadena, which has its own eradication program, would not be asked to join, county officials said.

Participation Voluntary

The district would be established by December, after hearings by the Local Agency Formation Commission for comment from the cities. City participation is voluntary.

A similar county proposal stalled in 1987 after receiving little support from 25 San Gabriel Valley cities, which are among 27 countywide that neither support an abatement district nor have their own programs, officials said.

The cities were reluctant to split the costs--now about $325,000 annually--because the money would have come from their general funds, they said.

Under the new plan, a property tax of about $2 per parcel per year would pay for the abatement district, said Virginia Collins, finance division director in the county chief administrator's office. She said no city has yet commented on the proposal, but she predicted support for it.

"A $2 assessment is so minor, and the benefit is so great in terms of public health, that we don't believe there will be any problem with it," she said. "It's cheaper (for property owners) than if they just went out and bought themselves some insecticide."

Asked about the proposal, officials in Pomona and Temple City, said they would probably support the new district.

The county Department of Health Services has paid for mosquito eradication in the San Gabriel Valley and other areas without abatement programs since 1984, when a surprise outbreak of the St. Louis encephalitis virus infected 16 people countywide, killing one and contributing to the deaths of two others.

The virus, which attacks the brain and nervous system, causes symptoms ranging from a mild fever to delirium and severe seizures, health officials said.

Officials said many cities throughout the county traditionally refused to join mosquito districts because, until the 1984 outbreak, only a handful of mosquito-borne encephalitis cases had been reported.

Four Cases Reported

Since the outbreak, four cases have been reported in the county. Though no cases were reported in 1987 or 1988, county officials say at least three cases were reported in San Bernardino and Orange counties during the last two years.

There has also been evidence that encephalitis still exists in Los Angeles County, they said. Last year, the virus was discovered in three of five "sentinel chicken flocks" that abatement districts keep in open-air cages and test for the disease. It was also detected in four ponds of stagnant water where mosquitoes live, county analyst Bonnie Chun said.

"I think we have the situation back under control, and now we want to keep it under control," said Robert Gates, director of the Department of Health Services. "But it's still sort of lurking out there."

Gates said a continuing county budget squeeze prompted the new effort to "spread the burden" of paying for mosquito abatement. With the new method of financing, he expects cities to join the proposed district, Gates said.

In Pomona, officials said they supported the 1987 abatement plan and would probably not change their position.

"It's up to the City Council, but I would say the city would certainly support that," Dayle Keller, deputy city administrator in Pomona, said. "It's not going to be coming out of our budget, and it's a very small amount compared to most people's tax bills."

Karl Koski, city manager in Temple City, said that if the health problem is substantiated, he will recommend participation in the program.

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