SANTA ANA — In refusing to halt the state's ongoing campaign against the Mediterranean fruit fly, a federal judge rejected attempts Wednesday by four Southern California cities to show that the state has been unlawfully dumping pesticides into their skies without local permission.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler in Santa Ana keeps intact the state's unblemished legal record for defending its controversial aerial assault on the Medfly.
Five times to date in the local Medfly war, state and federal judges have been asked to halt the malathion sprayings on grounds ranging from effects on the homeless to health hazards and potential aviation peril. And five times, by the state's tally, the judges have refused to do so.
In the case before Stotler, the cities of Pasadena, Alhambra, Azusa and Lynwood challenged the malathion campaign on the grounds that the state had failed to follow aviation and environmental regulations before embarking on the unpopular program in Southern California late last year.
It was Pasadena that adopted a novel attack on the malathion program in February when the city banned night-time, low-altitude flying, such as the type used by the helicopters that have been spraying a mixture of malathion and insect bait over more than 400 square miles in the area, about a tenth of that in Orange County.
Other cities followed Pasadena's lead and enacted similar ordinances. Pasadena has already brought misdemeanor charges against one malathion helicopter pilot for allegedly violating the ordinance, but the state, buoyed by Stotler's ruling, will now seek to have the ordinance declared invalid.
Attorney Scott Campbell, speaking for the cities, told Stotler at the two-hour hearing that local officials are only seeking some input into the malathion program by requiring the state to come to them for spraying approval--as the cities believe is required by U.S. law.
But Stotler threw out the claim, saying that the cities should have sought other administrative remedies and can still pursue their lawsuits in state court if they want. The judge did not directly address questions surrounding the health and environmental effect of malathion.