Pictured: An altered school crossing sign in front of San Antonio Elementary School in Ojai on the corner of Carne Road and Grand Avenue. The school has orchards on all sides and members of the community are asking for notification when pesticide spraying will occur. Photo taken Oct. 15, 2019 by Kimberly Rivers.

by Bryan Rosen

Two petitions to the Ojai City Council were circulated in Ojai a couple of years ago in 2017, one to create a Pesticide Free Zone, and the other for Ojai to become a Humane City USA. Having a longtime affinity and attraction to Ojai, I volunteered to be part of the effort led by the Ojai group, Transition to Organics. Hundreds of people signed the petitions. Three out of five city council members signed for the Pesticide Free zone (Mr. Weirick was asked, but declined), and four out of five for the Humane City USA (only Mr. Haney didn’t sign.). Suza Francina and Johnny Johnston, both running for office, signed the petitions as well. Hundreds of individually written letters were received by the council in support of both measures, more letters received than on other issues. Suza explains to me that she still has those letters, and intends on doing something.

The petitions asked the council to put these matters on the agenda.

The Humane City USA petition asked the council to pass a resolution encouraging Ojai residents and restaurants to purchase humanely-raised animal products. Also, the petition asked for an “educational exhibit downtown in a prominent location so residences and tourists can be informed how they can make a difference.” An exhibit on a public sidewalk is not unheard of. For example, on the promenade in Yosemite Valley, there are educational displays including one titled “The Nature of Recycling.”

The petition also asked for a sign as one comes into town stating that Ojai is a Humane City USA (could be right by the Tree City USA sign), and for a banner to be hung “over the main street from time to time encouraging people to make humane choices.”

The Pesticide Free Zone petition asked the council to create “a resolution encouraging all restaurants to serve non-GMO foods that are grown without pesticides on their menus.” Similarly, it asked for a banner “which states that the city of Ojai encourages healthy alternatives to pesticides and herbicides.” It also asked for an “educational stand downtown in a prominent location that contains information and brochures on how backyards, landscape, gardens and farms can transition off of chemicals that are harmful to our health and the health of our ecosystems, wildlife and pets.”

In addition, it requested that “community members and visitors will be properly warned about pesticide applications that are about to take place in our area . . .”

How can one argue against people having the right to know about major pesticide applications? The chemically sensitive are affected the most. It isn’t fair to have tourists come into Ojai, become sick from pesticides in the air, and not know why. Let’s not forget the farmworkers. How is their health?

This is a public safety issue. It’s important that everyone in the area is aware of toxic spraying. On my recent trip to Northern California, I saw a display on a screen along Highway 101 asking people to use child seats. One couldn’t miss it. Why not have a similar type of screen on the way to Ojai letting the public know about pesticide applications taking place, and who to contact for information? It’s not enough to just stick a notice in a newspaper that many people don’t read.

On my road trip, I also saw a billboard as one enters San Luis Obispo explaining that rat poison harms more than rats, with photos of wildlife harmed. Animals may be the biggest victims of pesticide spraying. Given the many animals harmed by pesticides, a similar type of educational display is sorely needed.  

City leaders signed the petitions in support of these two measures. Now, it’s time for them to take action.

Bryan Rosen is Director of Concerned Citizens for Environmental Health, an environmental advocacy group, and a freelance journalist of editorials.