Conceding that plans for aerial spraying could have been made clearer to residents of Sacramento and Yolo counties, mosquito control officials Thursday pledged to improve communication about how, when and why they are killing off infected mosquitoes in residential neighborhoods.
The commitment came during a forum at the district's headquarters where a few area residents took the opportunity to air their concerns.
More precise Internet notification, enhanced telephone hotline information and better marketing efforts were all discussed as ways to improve the way residents are warned about West Nile virus and the insecticide treatments used to fight it in residential areas.
Organized by a committee of the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District's board of directors, the forum looked nothing like the boisterous session in Davis on Tuesday, when opponents to aerial spraying took over a meeting after the exodus of several frustrated government leaders. Roughly 10 residents were in the audience, and an almost equal number of media representatives.
"This is not a forum to discuss the pros and cons of aerial spraying, but how to better get our message to the public," Gary Goodman, assistant manager of the district, said to kick off the meeting.
While Goodman succeeded in keeping the group on topic, he could not escape criticism from two vocal area residents.
"Why is it that you are having a public meeting at 2 p.m. during work hours?" asked Joseph Rodriguez, who lives near the Sacramento-Elk Grove border. "What kind of thinking is that?"
Rodriguez went on to complain about how he and others have expected the aerial spraying to take place, only to learn the next day that it had been canceled.
"I have been living like a hostage in the neighborhood this week," he said. "I'm getting awfully tired of wrapping up my car every night."
Mosquito district plans to conduct aerial spraying have been thwarted repeatedly the past several days because of winds greater than 10 mph.
Goodman on Thursday said additional plans to spray in residential areas have been suspended because of a significant drop in the number of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus throughout the district's area.
Of the 14 pools of mosquitoes used to collect data on West Nile activity in mosquitoes, only four tested positive on Thursday. None of the test pools in Elk Grove tested positive.
Goodman said no spraying will be conducted in Elk Grove, at least until early next week.
Elk Grove resident Ted Benjamin gave Goodman and the committee an earful. He said the district's system for convincing the public about the importance of spraying and for explaining how and when it will take place has been unsuccessful, at least in the southern part of Sacramento County.
"You had an opportunity when West Nile virus started," he said. "You had everyone in the community listening, but you blew it."
He said he's been following recommendations to close up his house, bring in his cats and turn off his air conditioners every night - unnecessarily.
"Nobody takes you seriously now," he said.
Goodman explained that not until a plane goes up into the air and takes wind measurements can the pilot determine whether it is safe to spray insecticides without the chemicals drifting off course. That's why many residents have heard planes take off, fly low and then abruptly end their flight, he said.
Goodman added that the district cannot communicate with the pilot directly, but has to wait until the plane lands to find out whether spraying took place.
Regardless, Goodman agreed the district can do a better job, including providing a more detailed and more timely spraying schedule and offering residents additional information on its Web site explaining the parameters for aerial and ground treatment.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Benjamin was cautiously optimistic: "Maybe they are hearing," he said. "We'll see."
Meeting for Galt
The district will hold an informational meeting on mosquito control efforts in Galt on Monday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Chabolla Center, 630 Chabolla Ave.
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