Should the City of Davis Have Done More to Warn Residents of Spraying?

wnv-sprayingIn the discussion of West Nile virus spraying, it seems that a number of Davis residents were caught unaware and the spraying had some impacts, from skin and eye irritation to other maladies. So that raises the question of what should have been done to have improved this communication or, conversely, was the information available and the public not paying sufficient attention to that information?

As one of our readers noted yesterday, “The mosquito abatement district has an obligation to adequately notify the public of these spray events to reduce exposure risk. It’s obvious that the current means of communication has not been adequate and more needs to be done to get the message out.”

They added, “Perhaps the City of Davis can play a role in notifying the public when a spray event is scheduled.”

A reader asked, “What other methods do you suggest the city use to notify citizens of spray nights?”

A reader responded, “Is the City doing the spraying (or responsible for requesting it)? If not, they are not responsible for doing the notification, and as they can at best only be passing on second hand information, any efforts to be involved in the notification process will only add confusion.”

So I did some looking since I am on most of the city’s press release and public release lists – exactly what did the city do and what didn’t the city do?

For example, the city of Woodland, on August 6, put out an email that announced: “The Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District has scheduled aerial spraying in Woodland on Wednesday and Thursday, August 6-7, from 8pm-midnight. For more information please visit”

The city of Davis has launched its own City of Davis Newsletter – both the Vanguard email and my personal email are on the list and they put out a newsletter as recently as July 30, but there was no mention of West Nile Spraying.

The city’s website does have a notice from July 30: “The Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District has issued a news release regarding significant West Nile Virus activity in the Davis area; West Nile Virus Activity is Intense Throughout Yolo County as 27 New Mosquito Samples Test Positive –Aerial spraying in urban areas is being considered.”

But there is no notice to tell people that spraying would occur, when it would occur, and what precautions to take. We know that the city’s webpage is not read very heavily.

Nixle is an integrated Community Information Service set up by the Davis Police Department last August.

It notes, “New and innovative ways to better communicate with the public continue to evolve and the Davis Police Department believes this service will allow our community members to stay informed in the most convenient, reliable way possible. An aware and well informed citizen base can greatly assist in crime prevention efforts. Please join us in this information sharing process and assist us by getting the word out to fellow residents, neighbors, and friends.”

While I got an alert on August 4 that someone was abducted in Santa Barbara and there was a more local alert in mid-July about a missing elderly resident, the city and police did not use Nixle to alert about spraying. I have no idea how many people would be reached, but clearly the police were able to get out the word about the resident fairly easily – the city should have been able to get out word about the spraying.

Stacey Winton, the city’s Community Partnership Coordinator, has sent out press releases to the media about things ranging from traffic alerts to construction to the fall’s recreation schedule. There was no news release about West Nile spraying.

The one place we did find notification was on August 7, where the City of Davis re-tweeted the Sac-Yolo Mosquito’s notification: “Aerial spraying is scheduled tonight in Davis/Woodland between 8pm-12am as ground spraying targets #WNv activity in Sacramento County.” And on August 5: “Aerial spraying in Davis and Woodland to combat West Nile Virus scheduled 8pm-12am Wednesday and Thursday 8/6-7. Map .” August 4, “INTENSE WEST NILE VIRUS ACTIVITY IN YOLO COUNTY PROMPTS AERIAL SPRAYING OVER DAVIS AND WOODLAND …

However, the city has only 52 followers on its Twitter account.

Nextdoor is a neighborhood social media network. Interestingly enough, on July 30, the city warned on Nextdoor that there would be ground spraying in several locations on July 30 between 8 pm and midnight.

And on August 4, they sent out a notice: “The City was just notified that the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will be conducting aerial treatments for adult mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus for two consecutive nights on Wednesday, August 6 and Thursday, August 7 from approximately 8:00 pm to midnight over the cities of Davis and Woodland and the surrounding agricultural areas in Yolo County.”

Again, the question is how many people saw this? But clearly, although the city attempted to get the information out, it is unclear how many people were actually reached.

The question is: given that the city of Davis is not the principal party, are they obligated to alert their residents? I don’t know what the word obligated means at this point, but clearly both Woodland and Davis took some steps to alert their residents, I would simply argue that it was not enough and they could have done a lot more.

Hopefully this will raise the issue and the city can figure out a better response matrix and protocol for the next time this happens.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Offering Balance

    The City of Davis is not responsible for the communication but is obviously trying to get the word out. I think the mosquito abatement district should start an email list for those who care about the issue. The list would allow instant notifications to those who did not receive notification through the communication channels that have been used for years. I heard about the recent spraying on TV and on the radio.

    I don’t think the statewide police alert system would be appropriate. The system is for emergencies where life is generally in imminent danger. Let me clarify, human lives, not mosquito lives.

    1. David Greenwald

      It falls into the realm though of public safety and the police system could be used to play a role. Again, I don’t know the number of users on anything other than Twitter that I looked at so it’s hard to know if it would matter much. Obviously a mosquito abatement district is not going to have localized contact information and have to rely on the local jurisdictions to get the word out.

      1. Offering Balance

        I don’t think mosquito spraying rises to the level of the emergency needed to send out blanket notifications on an emergency alert system. I think people would become immune to legitimate emergencies, kinda like car alarms. Most people don’t even raise an eyebrow when a car alarm goes off.

        I would fully support an “opt in” function if people wanted notification about these types of things.

  2. Anon

    Again, some are calling for more notification by the city if there is going to be aerial spraying, but no suggestions are given on methodology? HOW should the city go about better notifying citizens, short of dropping leaflets from a biplane from overhead 24 hrs ahead of time? What better methods can they use?

    1. Davis Progressive

      i read a lot of suggestions of methodology in david’s piece. he goes through easy ways for the city to communicate – finds that they did some things but not others.

  3. Alan Miller

    I heard the plane flying over and didn’t think anything of it until the second pass, and then I had flashbacks to the medfly spraying in the 70’s.

    Yes, of course the City should have a method to inform residents. Possibly it is correct that this is a low toxic dose. How many times in recent history have we thought something was safe and later found it was not? Truth is, we are just animals playing with chemicals and the environment and we are still learning what works and what harms us. I’ll err on the side of caution, and I’ll choose to stay inside on spraying nights and bring my cat inside. I didn’t have that choice as I wasn’t aware in advance. Super-media-tuned-in-people-without-a-life don’t go criticizing because some of us didn’t read the paper in time. I got a message on my phone about a guy who they were looking for and searching with a helicopter (after it was over). This is a chance for the City and citizens to add texts for people who register and improve the phone contacts to include cells. It may come in handy for other things yet unknown.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Other than making disparaging remarks without evidence against real people with real feelings, DPee, can you come up with something in recent history which you thought was safe but later found out it was not? Or are you simply asking me to be disparaging in your usual, cowardly way?

          1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

            X-rays and DDT are not recent.

            Also, X-rays are still used every day in a safe manner. Sure, they can be dangerous if precautions are not taken. But so can pretty much any product.

            I am not sure if anyone still uses DDT. But I know millions of people were saved by its use when it was the best product available for killing mosquitos. For those millions, the benefits surely outweighed the dangers.

          2. Alan Miller

            I was considering “recent” as the last few centuries, “recent” relative to the existence of the species as a whole.

            My point is that although we like to think of ourselves as “smart” and our methods infallible, in fact humans are imperfect and science imperfect, as imperfect as the humans that run it within political and economic limitations and motivations.

            Those who site a scientific study as proof of safety are as nuts as those that believe any dosage is toxic.

            I cannot be an expert in all hazards and I am not an expert in the toxicity of all blank-icides. What I can do is choose to spend the night in Dunnigan or cover my head with aluminum foil and breathe from an oxygen tank.

            What I ask of my City or appropriate government agency is a reasonable attempt at mass notification of spraying schedules.

          3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

            DDT was first synthesized in 1874. X-rays were discovered in 1895. In common parlance, those are not recent inventions. I am sure you could have found examples of more recent products which were once thought safe and later found to be hazardous. However, as with all things, a cost-benefit analysis needs to be done. DDT did far more good than harm. But once we had other, safer chemicals, it was right to use them instead. The dangers of X-rays have been known for a very long time. But used with proper safeguards, their benefit is tremendous to this day. The worst thing policymakers can do in this regard is to put “safety” above all considerations, especially when that means more harm than good.

      1. Don Shor

        Pesticides are put through a battery of tests to assess their toxicities. I wrote this years ago for a presentation:
        But it does happen that other types of toxicity or long-term harm may be identified or hypothesized after a substance has been registered. For example, whether pesticides are endocrine disrupters (, or have links to various types of cancers. Usually this is first identified from epidemiological studies of populations, and then you have to try to assess whether the correlation equals causation. In fact, it is this kind of linkage that the opponents of WNV spraying are citing.

        In some cases there are gaps in the range of what is regulated. Many people now believe that systemic insecticides such as the neo-nicotinoids were not adequately regulated for their impact on beneficial insects, particularly pollinators. The EPA is reviewing this, but that process takes a few years. Meanwhile, they have drawn up some pollinator-related labeling and restrictions to add to the labels of these products.

        1. tribeUSA

          Yes, testing protocols currently used can identify acute toxic effects fairly reliably; however long-term chronic low-level toxic effects are much more expensive to test for, and such testing (using animal models and accelerated lifetime exposure protocols) typically has lower reliability, as I understand it. Particularly in the human population any long-term chronic effects are difficult to attribute to exposure to a specific chemical or group of chemicals ; because of the plethora of new chemicals that are released into the environment each decade and uncertain exposure levels for any individual.

          Perhaps an environmental toxicologist would care to comment?

      2. Tia Will


        Drug recalls since around 1990 ( since I started with Kaiser Sacramento), a few examples –
        Adderall ( thromboembolic events), Fen-phen ( cardiotoxicity), phenolthailene ( carcinogen),
        several variants of the “floxacillin” category of antibiotics ( cardiotoxicity ), Trovan ( heart attack and stroke).
        These were all drugs that had been tested and found to be “safe” and subsequently under went recall due to the large number of cases of documented associated toxicity and in a few instances deaths.

        I know that these are individually prescribed drugs and not pesticides, but I think these examples will demonstrate that there are many cases of substances that we feel have been tested and found safe and subsequently proved not to be so.

    1. SODA

      Hasn’t the city begun sending somewhat regular city update emails? If so, wouldn’t that be a way to easily alert us. True, they don’t have everyone’s email…
      We got a recorded call on our answering machine a month or so ago from Costco warning us to toss the Knudsen cottage cheese we had recently bought there…..if they can do it, Davis should be able to!

        1. Tia Will

          SODA and DP

          It is true the city doesn’t have all of our emails, but they do have all of our addresses as witnessed by the ability to send us bills. If the decision to spray is made far enough in advance their could be mailings. Does anyone know the usual timeline.

  4. DurantFan

    I thought that the vendors making up the organic food, organic garden, and Farmers Market communirties would have been more concerned about the impacts of the spraying on their produce, but apparantly not*. i
    *My previous comment concerning this matter:

    ” DurantFan August 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm
    As I approached the Davis Food Co-op one evening ths week, I observed the mosquito abatement plane spray over the open courtyard and produce storage area in front of the store. Is the organic produce stored/displayed there at that time still considered to be organic? Are all of the organic gardens within the spray area at large also still considered to be “organic?” Just asking.

  5. odd man out

    RR wrote: “Other than making disparaging remarks without evidence against real people with real feelings, DPee, can you come up with something in recent history which you thought was safe but later found out it was not? Or are you simply asking me to be disparaging in your usual, cowardly way?

    Don? Aren’t these the kind of personal remarks and name-calling you should be moderating?

    1. Don Shor

      I’m hoping they can work this out between themselves. That they can work together to achieve a more harmonious, civil tone on the Vanguard. Surely it’s possible.

      1. Alan Miller

        Allowing an on-line public pissing contest between a known person and an anonymous entity makes as much sense as throwing a baby in a cage with an evil spirit. RRs comments may seem like name-calling, and they are, but he is a real person standing by his remarks. The anonymous are . . . well, RR already said it. Yes, I will now be attacked by the anonymousites here, and in this I will respond as RR did, except in advance, to all anonymous in particular.

        I frequently called for the shutting down of the anonymous in the Enterprise comments due to the destructive nature of the anonymous yielding power thru their ability to say anything without personal consequence. The Enterprise recently did so (although I have a major issue with their only allow Facebook comments, a major step in the right direction). The anonymous, shut down there, are now trolling louder here as their very existence as anonymous obnoxious beings are threatened.

        Mind you, unlike on the Enterprise, I am not for anonymous beings being shut down here in the Vanguard. I understand that some are, on some issues, in a position where they cannot say certain things that are valuable information (though I think far more use that as an excuse to say anything they want without consequence). Trollish flaming, however is cowardly, uncivil and unproductive. That is the failure of Vanguard commenting policy.

        Several days ago I called one anonymous entity a “d–k”. I am sure that comment was immediately removed and it should have been. My point in doing so was not that my calling someone a “d–k” was appropriate, but that the comment previous where an anonymous person used a common shutdown tactic that included a directed insult at me while remaining anonymous doing so was far more inappropriate than calling an anonymous person, who by nature cannot be identified, a “d–k” or “S head” or whatever. I request of David and the Vanguard not to allow personal insults by the anonymous as comment policy. Note: earlier in the discussion another commenter also used a shutdown tactic / personal insult, but they identified themselves by name, taking responsibility for the comment; to them I would say, on-line or in person, “well played, sir”, as they displayed courage by declaring identity.

        Further, the discussion a few days ago in which City Staff were named, and then their alleged motivations declared, was disgusting, as done from an anonymous pulpit. Again, I blame Vanguard comment policy far beyond the anonymous person who is simply being enabled in their infantile cowardice. Whatever personal feeling I have toward a member of our City Staff, they are employees, not public figures, and they should not be personally cited BY NAME in a forum such as this, and most especially not by an anonymous entity.

        Those are my beliefs on bringing improvement here for informative yet remotely civil comment discussion.

        Let the flames begin . . .

        1. Don Shor

          I will now be attacked by the anonymousites

          The correct term is anonymice.
          The basic rule (so far) is: don’t directly insult another blog participant.

        2. John

          “The anonymous, shut down there, are now trolling louder here as their very existence as anonymous obnoxious beings are threatened.”

          I haven’t seen any evidence of increased anonymous posting here on the Vanguard. Nor have I seen any evidence of louder posting. Rich Rifkin and Michael Bisch have always been loud, and neither of them are anonymous. Barack Palin and Frankly have always been loud. If anything Barack Palin has been quieter than usual of late.

          1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

            Seems to me John you are the definition of a troll. You show up only to incite. You never offer any insight or information or even reason at all.

          2. Don Shor

            Perhaps we can now leave this back and forth and return to the topic at hand; that is, whether the City of Davis could have done more to warn residents of spraying.

    2. John

      Don has already answered with a very good answer that is different than this one, but I will share it anyway. Rich is doing a splendid imitation of a caricature, and in the process iis doing a pretty good job of self-sanctioning himself.

      1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

        “Rich is doing a splendid imitation of a caricature.”

        Do you care to explain? Sounds like a troll type comment … of course someone who is new to the Vanguard and will be gone shortly or return with a new fake name.

  6. Barbara King

    Some other towns, such as Woodland and Roseville, have signs with moveable letters in front of their fire stations. These signs are used to present helpful information, such as reminders to change one’s smoke alarm batteries at the beginning or end of daylight savings time. If such signs were added to the areas in front of Davis’s fire departments, maybe notices of spraying could be posted there when needed to reach at least a few more people?

  7. eastdavis

    Wow: “Notification of the public prior to a mosquito control pesticide application by a vector control agency signatory to a Cooperative Agreement with CDPH, or under contract for such agency is not a legal requirement in California (California Code of Regulations – Title 3: Food and Agriculture: Division 6.”


    Public notification
    Notification of the public prior to a mosquito control pesticide application by a vector control agency signatory to a Cooperative Agreement with CDPH, or under contract for such agency is not a legal requirement in California (California Code of Regulations – Title 3: Food and Agriculture: Division 6. Pesticides and Pest Control Operations: Section 6620a). However, public notification of pending adult mosquito control is recommended as early as possible prior to the treatment event.

    Basic notification steps
    • Provide notification of pending application as early as possible.
    • Post clearly defined treatment block map online or through appropriate media outlet.
    • Post product label and material safety data sheet (MSDS) online or through appropriate media outlet.
    • Post and/or have available scientific publications regarding the efficacy of aerial or ground based applications (as appropriate), including effects on non-target organisms and risk-assessments.

    Public relations considerations
    • Ensure staffing is adequate to handle a significant increase in phone calls.
    • Ensure website capability is adequate to handle a rapid increase in visitors.
    • Train personnel answering phones to address calls from citizens concerned about personal and environmental pesticide exposure.
    • Ensure adequate follow-through for calls related to sporting events, concerts, weddings, and other outdoor events that may be scheduled during the application and within the treatment block.

  8. eastdavis

    Sorry that my quote got truncated, here it is in full: Notification of the public prior to a mosquito control pesticide application by a vector control agency signatory to a Cooperative Agreement with CDPH, or under contract for such agency is not a legal requirement in California (California Code of Regulations – Title 3: Food and Agriculture: Division 6. Pesticides and Pest Control Operations: Section 6620a).

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