In the first court-ordered limit on use of a legal pesticide in Ventura County, a lemon rancher has been barred from spraying on the portion of his orchard closest to an elementary school when students are on campus.
The preliminary injunction issued Friday by Judge Henry Walsh also requires rancher Daniel Campbell to notify Ventura Unified School District officials 72 hours before any spraying, and mandates that licensed pest-control advisors be on site during all applications.
Walsh also granted a request by the Ventura school district to join a lawsuit filed May 24 by the Ventura County district attorney against Campbell and his foreman, Raul Adame. The suit, alleging violations of state agriculture and air quality codes, stems from a reported pesticide drift onto Mound Elementary School one morning last fall.
Lawyers on both sides interpreted Friday's decision as a victory.
"I think what the judge did was fair," said Archie Clarizio, Campbell's attorney. "The district attorney only got 25% of what he was asking for."
Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Brose said he, too, was satisfied with Walsh's ruling, despite the judge's cutback of the no-spray zone from 400 feet to 200 feet from school during class hours.
"I think we got the most important 25%," Brose said. "The point was to adopt some prudent measures to prevent any problems in the future."
The preliminary injunction comes after a May 25 temporary restraining order issued by Walsh that halted all pesticide use on Campbell's ranch until Friday's hearing. Clarizio said his client intends to sue the county for monetary damages he has suffered because the restraining order was too broad.
"If they choose to sue, that's their decision," Brose said, adding that he does not believe the two-week ban was unreasonable.
The district attorney's lawsuit cites two incidents in which Campbell allegedly allowed the insecticide Lorsban to drift from his 200-acre lemon orchard. On one of those occasions, two Mound students were sent home Nov. 8 and dozens of others complained of dizziness and nausea after witnesses reported seeing a drizzly cloud descending on the school.
In court Friday, Clarizio maintained that the drift was caused by an employee--whom Campbell later fired--spraying in an area he was told to stay away from. Clarizio also said there is no objective evidence linking the rancher's Lorsban application with health problems among students and teachers at the school.
Nonetheless, the November incident prompted parents and educators to urge public officials to tighten restrictions on spraying of pesticides near schools. It also was the impetus for a bill introduced earlier this year by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).
The proposed legislation, which passed the Assembly floor this week and will go to the Senate this summer, would give county agriculture commissioners authority to impose conditions on the use of nonrestricted pesticides on farms within a quarter-mile of schools.
Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned Lorsban as a household pesticide because of potential long-term risks for children, it is unrestricted for agriculture use.
Walsh said he was not prepared to stop Campbell from using Lorsban altogether, but reminded attorneys that many substances once commonly used, including the pesticide DDT, are now illegal in the United States.
"The fact is that Lorsban is toxic," Walsh said before his ruling. "The fact that it hasn't been banned doesn't mean it doesn't pose a health risk."
The preliminary injunction will remain in place until conclusion of a trial or until both sides reach a settlement, Brose said. A trial date has not been set.
The injunction also requires hand-spraying of the row of trees bordering Mound school; gives the Ventura County agriculture commissioner access to the ranch during spraying; and requires that nozzles on the spray rigs be adjusted to match the height of the orchard trees.
The judge did not approve several of Brose's recommendations for the injunction, including provisions that could have held Campbell in contempt of court if another drift occurred.
Mary Haffner, a Mound parent and anti-pesticide activist who has led the fight against Campbell, could not be reached for comment Friday.
One parent at the hearing, Deborah Bechtel, said she was confused by the ruling.
"I don't think the way the judge framed it [that] it's going to protect the children as we had hoped," she said.