The city of El Cajon won a small--though perhaps temporary--victory Wednesday when a Municipal Court judge ruled he would allow an expert witness to testify today about the effects of the pesticide malathion on human health.
As expected, the state attorney general's office began the day by filing a motion to prevent any testimony on the pesticide's impact on people. But soon afterward, Judge J. Michael Bollman, sitting in Superior Court, said he was not yet prepared to exclude the witness. He said he would take the motion under submission, allowing the witness to testify. He will rule on the admissibility of the testimony later.
Bollman's decision kicked off the first day of trial in El Cajon, where the city has sued to halt aerial malathion spraying of a 16-square-mile area. Already, the state has completed one of three scheduled applications of the poison, which is intended to eradicate a suspected infestation of the Mexican fruit fly, or Mexfly.
A second application is planned for Monday, and despite Stephen M. Eckis, El Cajon's deputy city attorney, and Deputy Atty. Gen. Charles W. Getz IV's assurances to the contrary, Bollman said he was dubious that the trial would be over by then.
"I have grave reservations whether we're going to be finished with this trial by Monday," Bollman said. "This ordinarily is a four- or five- or six-week trial, and we're trying to cram it into three or four days."
Indeed, things got off to a very slow start, as Eckis and Getz questioned three witnesses for nearly five hours. Eckis plans to call two more witnesses today, and Getz said he will present "anywhere from zero to six" witnesses for the state.
Rex Magee, the state's associate agriculture director and the man who signed the statement of decision ordering the spraying, testified that it is "possible" to eradicate a Mexfly infestation without pesticides in certain cases, but that the El Cajon situation was not one of those cases. He said he came to that conclusion based upon the recommendations of a four-member Science Advisory Panel that advises the Department of Food and Agriculture about Mexflies.
Krishan Lal, the Department of Fish and Game's projects review coordinator for San Diego and four other counties, was called to testify about malathion's effects on endangered or threatened species. He said he believed that compared to a construction project, malathion would not have "any serious impact" on habitats for such species, none of which are known to exist in the spray area.
But Kathy S. Williams, an assistant biology professor at San Diego State University, testified that a group of at least six of the endangered least Bell's vireos live about a half a mile southeast of the spray site. She said that, because all types of insects ingest malathion, the pesticide "poses a potential jeopardy" to the birds' food source.