A meeting intended to calm fears in Davis about possible pesticide spraying to combat West Nile virus erupted in chaos Tuesday, as opponents shouted objections to the meeting's strict format, drove off government leaders and then took over the session.
The ground rules of the meeting called for written questions from audience members to be read by Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson to a panel of officials and handpicked experts.
About 30 minutes into the meeting, however, several opponents began loudly interrupting with questions and objections.
"This is a democratic meeting," said resident David Bayer. "People have a right to stand up and articulate their concerns."
Asmundson abruptly halted the session and directed the panel to leave the City Hall dais.
"Are we going to be forced to lay down in front of spray trucks?" opposition leader Samantha McCarthy yelled at Asmundson. "You don't walk out on the public."
Within minutes, the spraying opponents had restored a semblance of order. They took over the chambers and resumed the meeting, running it in the manner they had wanted in the first place.
The opponents elected a leader - Joan Randall, the first woman in Yolo County to contract West Nile fever - and conducted an orderly session during which residents were allowed to openly voice concerns about possible plans by Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District to spray a pesticide fog along city streets.
Only Asmundson and Thomson returned to listen.
Randall kept things moving along peacefully and the meeting ended nearly on schedule, just after 9 p.m., with a polite round of applause.
Among the questions raised by residents were what effect the pesticides in the fog could have on pregnant women. They also wanted to know who would clean the residue from play structures at schools and parks.
Mosquito-control officials and some scientists have assured area residents that the chemicals being used are safe.
Donald Mooney, an environmental leader who opposes the spraying, wanted to know why some cities that had opted not to spray for mosquitoes - including Boulder, Colo., and Cheyenne, Wyo. - had actually experienced fewer cases of West Nile virus than nearby cities that had sprayed.
Because the scientists had departed, there were few answers.
But one woman, who is three months pregnant, expressed a sentiment to Asmundson and Thomson that many of the spraying opponents seemed to share.
"Do elected officials know people don't feel safe in their homes?" asked Bessie Oakley of Davis.
Earlier Tuesday, the official number of confirmed human West Nile cases rose, with Sacramento County reporting 70 cases - nearly a quarter of all the cases in the state and more than any other county.
Dave Brown, manager of the mosquito district, urged people throughout the region to help prevent the further spread of West Nile - and the need for more pesticide spraying - during the remaining several weeks of peak mosquito season by eliminating standing pools of water on their property where mosquitoes might breed and using repellant when outside at dusk or dawn.
Brown said that if the number of infected mosquitoes increases to high enough levels, he would go ahead with ground spraying in populated areas of Yolo County because of the risk of spreading West Nile.
As of Tuesday afternoon, those levels had not risen high enough to trigger ground spraying, and no date had been set for fogging city streets in Davis or Woodland.
The district had successfully treated about 45,000 acres to the north of Bond Road, excluding the downtown area, over the past several nights. But winds prevented the district from giving the area south of Bond Road in Elk Grove a third and final aerial treatment Monday night and again Tuesday.
The district did ground spraying in Galt Tuesday evening, because of spiking numbers of infected mosquitoes in the western portion of Galt and in rural areas nearby, Brown said.
The district aerially treated about 50,000 acres north of the American River in Sacramento County Aug. 8-10.
On Monday, the district had said aerial spraying might be extended across Rancho Cordova, as well as a band of land in the northern part of Sacramento County running from the northern portion of Citrus Heights west to Elverta.
But Tuesday, Brown said residential areas in those two regions probably would be treated by ground crews instead, and only if infected mosquito counts rise to a high enough level. Davis and Woodland are being similarly monitored on a daily basis.
"Our treatments go based on surveillance," Brown said. The State Department of Health Services announced the number of human West Nile cases for the year had risen from 265 as of Friday to 300 as of Tuesday.
Locally, Sacramento County's tally kept rising, from 58 last week to 70 as of Tuesday. According to the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services, 26 of those cases have involved the serious neuroinvasive version of the disease, 33 have involved West Nile fever, one person had no symptoms, and 10 others were blood donors who had no symptoms. Placer County announced three new human cases Tuesday, bringing the year's total to seven.
HUMAN WEST NILE CASES IN 2005
Regional counties: Sacramento, 70; Stanislaus, 40; Butte, 7; Sutter, 3; San Joaquin, 6; Yolo, 4; Placer 7.
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- The Bee's Deb Kollars can be reached at (916) 321-1090 or email@example.com.