Voters to decide on West Nile defenseBy Erin Sherbert
Property owners from the northern and Coastal communities likely will get to vote in November on whether they're willing to pay a small price to be protected from the West Nile Virus.
Right now, cities from San Bruno to Daly City and all along the Coast are not protected from the deadly disease.
But the San Mateo County Mosquito Abatement District is hoping voters will change that in a special election in November. A ballot will be mailed to all property owners -- whether they are registered voters or not -- asking them if they want to join the Mosquito Abatement District for $15 annually.
A simple majority is needed for the measure to pass. But before it can go to a vote, the County's Local Agency Formation Commission has to approve it, said Martha Poyatos, LAFCO's executive director. The LAFCO board will take a vote on the issue Wednesday afternoon.
"For $15 a year -- you can spend that much on mosquito repellent -- it's a real bargain," said Chindi Peavey, vector ecologist for the Mosquito Abatement District. "Next year, West Nile Virus will be here, it's in the state already."
The unserved areas recently decided they cannot afford to buy into the Mosquito Abatement District, which health officials say offers the most effective protection from outbreaks of the potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease.
At the same time, the district has said it doesn't have enough money in its $1.5 million budget to expand its services outside the district boundaries, should West Nile Virus hit San Mateo County.
The only way the unserved communities can secure protection at this point is by voting to join the Mosquito Abatement District.
If residents decide against joining the district, city officials say there is no Plan B.
"I don't want to take it lightly, but (West Nile Virus) doesn't seem to be a major problem at this point, even though there have been deaths associated with it," said San Bruno City Councilman Ken Ibarra. "We feel the County Health Department should take a lead in it."
As of Sept. 1, 764 human cases of West Nile Virus have been detected in the country. While a handful of cases are suspected in California, there have only been two confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus -- one this year and one last, and both in the Los Angeles area -- according to the California Department of Health Services.
Birds, humans and horses can become very sick -- and in some cases die -- if infected by West Nile. Dogs and cats can also get infected but don't get sick, according to the Mosquito Abatement District.
Residents like Robert Riechel say they want city leaders to guarantee protection should voters nix joining the District.
Riechel and his San Bruno neighbors, who live near a mosquito breeding ground, this summer started lobbying government officials to be proactive in getting protection from West Nile Virus.
"They can't just say, tough luck," Riechel said. "They have a responsibility to offer citizens support and protection -- I'm very unhappy to hear they have no backup plan."
Copyright ©2003 San Mateo County Times. Published 09/18/2003.