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Penalties Possible in Recent Pesticide Incident
Area Family Sent to Hospital by Exposure to Chlorpyrifos; School Not Affected

Tulare - A licensed pesticide applicator is facing possible civil penalties following a recent incident in which three persons were exposed to an insecticide from a nearby walnut orchard that drifted over their property off Road 140.

Harold Gauna, his wife, Norma, and their son, Casey, were all treated at Kaweah Delta Hospital on May 23 after being exposed to chlorpyrifos, a fairly common insecticide that is used on more than 150 different area crops.

Exposure to chlorpyrifos can over stimulate the central nervous system causing nausea, confusion and, at high exposures, result in respiratory paralysis and even death.

“Lab results indicated a gradient pattern of drift over the complainant's property,” said Bill Deavours, pesticide deputy at the Tulare County ag commissioner's office, “and it looks like we will be taking some follow up action. In that type of situation, civil penalty action is possible.”

Recalling the May 23 incident which occurred at their property located at 24028 Road 140, Norma Gauna said this week: “I was already in the shower when I heard the machines approaching. It was a white pickup dragging a fairly good-sized machine and they were spraying this brown stuff at least 20 or 30 feet above the trees with a lot of force. You could feel it landing on your body like a wet mist. I didn't know my son was already working in the field. But then he comes flying in the house saying, 'Mom, look what's happening out there.'”

Norma Gauna said the family had had similar problems in the past with their neighbor, Olson Farms. Telephone messages left with Olson Farms Management were not returned by the time this issue of the Valley Voice went to press.

The Gaunas lives on about two acres at the corner of Road 140 and Road 240, just across the street from Sundale Union School. They have six horses and about 20 chickens and a dog.

“I had the number (for the ag commissioner's office) because our neighbor had sprayed us before,” she said. “I always asked (Olson Farms) to notify us before they sprayed so we could lock up the house and the animals. That morning, I called them up to find out what they were spraying and they told me that they had already got clearance (to spray) from the ag department. Then my husband, unbeknownst to me, went over to talk to the workers who were spraying.”

“I could see the cloud of mist coming toward us and I kept backing away from it,” said Harold Gauna. “So I jumped into my truck and went over to Olson Farms and asked them what they were spraying on us. I told them the spray was getting on all of our animals. They told me they were just spraying nutrients. But when I came back to the farm, my son told me the 'nutrients' were killing all of the flies and other bugs.”

“You could see whatever they were spraying dripping off the trees and off the roof of the barn,” said Norma. “So we washed everything down, including the animals, their water troughs, the railings and the corrals. Then we went into Visalia to take care of some business” at the antique store where Norma Gauna operates a booth.

“After we went into town, our son called us and said he was sick and that an inspector from the ag department was over there and we should come home,” said Norma.

When they returned home, Norma said her son Casey, who is 39, was having heart palpitations and “sweating really bad. His whole body wasn't doing very well,” she said. “So we all went to the hospital immediately. We still had residue on us and at the hospital they made us take a shower and go through the whole hazard thing. We had to take everything off and put them in plastic bags, including my purse. Then we went through a whole series of tests, blood work, ECGs. When we went home, we had to go in hospital gowns because they kept all of our clothes.”

After returning from the hospital, Norma said: “My eyes got swollen and were red and I was coughing a lot. My sinuses and throat were burning too and my taste buds were bad for almost two weeks.”

While the county's pesticide investigator finalizes his report on the incident, Deavours said the applicator, who he only identified as “a licensed operator,” may be receiving a “Class A-level of civil penalty action” from the ag commissioner's office.

Fines for a Class A violation range from $700 to $5,000 per each person affected by an actual pesticide exposure.

Sundale Union's principal, Terri Rufert, said: “We received a call from the ag commissioner's office as soon as they knew about it and they told us what had happened. I asked them what I should look for if kids come to the office. An investigator from the commissioner's office came here and did some checking on our property to see if (the pesticide) had come over this far and he determined it had not.”

“Something like that had never happened before, at least as long as I've been here,” added Rufert, who is in her fifth year as the school's principal. “I was very impressed with how smoothly it was handled.”

Deavours said that when the investigator's report is complete, Ag Commissioner Gary Kunkel may sign a Notice of Proposed Action (NOPA). Deavours declined to identify the licensed applicator, which would have 20 days to respond to the ag commissioner's NOPA filing. Deavours, who said he could not comment on whether there was pesticide exposure at Sundale School, explained that defendants in these types of cases have two options: stipulating to the charges and paying the fine or requesting a hearing.

Of the more than two dozen NOPA filings the ag commissioner's office pursued in 2005, only two defendants requested formal hearings.

“Our office completes substantial investigation and research before we take that kind of action,” said Deavours.

While they wait for the ag commissioner's office to issue its report, Norma Gauna said she is considering hiring a lawyer.

“We really don't know what we are going to do just yet,” she said. “We are already getting a lot of doctor's bills in. They are going to have to get paid and I know that they are not coming out of my pocket…We have asked them (Olson Farms) several times to warn us before they spray…Next time, hopefully, they'll think twice and be a little courteous.”

Portuguese Radio Station Stands the Test of Time

By Robin Kaufman

Hanford - The dull stretch of Highway 198 between Hanford and Visalia can cause even the most attentive driver to tune out the scenery. Sometimes the trees, the cows, and the fields seem to blend together whether or not the season is foggy.

But on a 40-acre plot of ground set back from the road, there is an island among the dairies broadcasting the music of the Azores.

The art-deco building, construction in 1947, is the home of KIGS-AM 620, a Portuguese radio station.

“This is like a landmark,” said Herminio Quadros of the KIGS-AM programming and marketing department.

For some, it is more like a shrine to Hanford native Steve Perry, the lead vocalist of the band, Journey. The radio station and its twin three-story tripod towers were the inspiration for the cover artwork on the band's album, Raised on the Radio.

“Occasionally we'll get people who will stop by and photograph the building,” said Tony Viera, general manager and CEO of KIGS-AM.

Some visitors criticize the ocean of weeds that sometimes surround the station, but the underground wiring does not allow the station to do much more with the land.

“You can't plow it. You can't disc it. You can't do anything with it,” said Viera.

There are no above ground wires between the two radio towers. The underground antenna system consists of 120 copper radials that stretch 40 feet.

The configuration of the wiring explains the station's rural location. In the early days, “A majority of the time radio stations were not located downtown because you needed property,” said Viera.

Since the station recently put in an upgraded antenna plain system, there is no expectation for KIGS to leave its digs anytime soon.

Also, changing locations would pose the problem of interfering with other stations. “To place [new radio] buildings is an engineering nightmare,” said Viera.

The original call letters of the station were KNGS and it was the first radio station to broadcast out of Kings County. The publishers of the Hanford Sentinel and Journal made their first application to the Federal Communications Commission for the station in 1946 and by 1947, the station was on the air.

From the start, KNGS was an independent and unaffiliated station. However, it carried network programs such as Bing Crosby's Wednesday night show by American Broadcasting Company.

The station had a music and news schedule supplemented by dramatic shows such as The Smiths of Hollywood and Boston Blackie.

Through the years the station has undergone various transformations. When the current owner bought the facility, the format was Spanish.

Since 1952 the station has had some sort of Portuguese programming on the schedule, but 17 years ago the format was changed to mostly Portuguese with some Spanish.

“It was a complicated situation at the onset,” said Viera.

At first, Viera was leery of the transition from Spanish to Portuguese.

Getting the local advertisers on board was not so much of a problem. The dairy and agriculture industry seem to understand the benefit of advertising in Portuguese, according to Viera.

It is with the larger advertising agencies in cities like El Paso and Houston that Viera has to defend his demographics.

“Over the years it has become a lot easier to market the station itself,” said Viera, “We're more of a niche type of situation. In our case, it's a foreign language and a small community with resources and buying power,” said Viera.

The station predominately serves the Tulare and Kings County areas but “We tap a base way beyond the two counties,” said Viera.

The AM station is also accessible through the Internet. The station estimates an online listening audience of approximately 5,000 and e-mail messages come through from all over the world.

According to Viera, KIGS is one of only three full-time Portuguese stations in California. There are only five total in the United States.

“We have people who call up who don't speak Portuguese,” but enjoy listening to the Portuguese language and music, said Viera.

KIGS has a variety of programming including a morning show, news radio, talk, weather, traffic, headlines, information programs, and music programs.

“We're what radio used to be in the 50s and 60s. We do it all,” said Viera.

KIGS also boasts having an on-air personality who has been dubbed by some, “the grandfather of Portuguese radio,” Miguel Castro.

“He's one of the oldest voices on Portuguese radio - a very popular individual,” said Viera.

KIGS is a small operation compared to other radio stations and with only a few staff members, the employees are often required to multi-task.

“You have to have people that not only have the capability to do on-air, but sales,” said Viera.

And the multi-tasking also extends to Viera. He admits he is not the kind of CEO who wears a tie and sits behind a desk all day.

“Whatever needs done, that's what you have to do,” said Viera.

For this media manager, KIGS is a labor of love. He takes pride in his “100 percent Portuguese,” ancestry. Viera's family immigrated to America in 1898.

He also boasts of the Steve Perry connection with the station and the singer's Portuguese roots, citing Perry's real family name of Pereira.

Viera who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, and English fluently, believes maintaining the language of one's forefathers is important.

“At family gatherings, people have a tendency to revert back to the language of their parents,” said Viera.

To him, the station is a way of preserving the Portuguese tradition, culture and language. “It's a facility that has been placed on the air for the community,” said Viera.

Callers to the station are the usual and familiar voices. It's a community where everybody knows everybody. “People stop in just like the old days,” said Viera.

As the CEO of KIGS, Viera makes sure that he maintains the facility and maintains a profit but, “Our objective here is not to blanket the market…If we had to have X amount of profit, we would have changed format long ago…It's a very different outlook on broadcast radio,” said Viera.

The owner of KIGS has repeatedly turned down offers to sell the station. “We do this for the love of the language and the love of the community,” said Viera, “Realize one thing: if this facility ever changes format, the Portuguese community would never see another Portuguese radio station in the area.”

Pitigliano Farms: Truly a Family Affair

By Kim Clemons

Tulare - National statistics show that only 3 percent of family-owned businesses go to the fourth generation and beyond. The Pitiglianos made that mark when Charlie and Nancy's three sons, Michael, Joshua and Dominic, joined the family partnership to become the fourth generation of Pitigliano Farms.

“We've been farming the same dirt that was originally farmed by my grandfather [Ben Lapadula],” said Charlie Pitigliano (pronounced pit-lee-ã-no).

The Pitiglianos attribute their longevity to thinking outside of the box. “We were willing to change,” says Nancy.

“Working outside the farm helped pay the bills,” said Charlie, especially during the 1980s when times were tough.

“Charlie would go farm for other farmers and then come home and work on ours,” said Nancy.

The Pitiglianos would farm the land of those farms lost in foreclosure during the 1980s. “Charlie cleaned them up and got the farms looking nice, making it easier for the insurance company to sell the property,” says Nancy.

On their own farm, the Pitiglianos grow wine grapes, almonds, pistachios, corn, alfalfa and grains, while also custom farming for local farmers.

“We don't raise animals, but rather non-labor intensive crops,” said Charlie.

Joining the family business had to be earned by the Pitigliano boys. “Before they could work on the farm, we told them that they had to go to college first,” said Nancy. Two of the boys graduated from Cal Poly and one from Fresno State.

Dominic said that, at first, he did not want to go back to the farm because there were so many opportunities to consider. But eventually he found that his passion is farming. “I love it—it's good to go to work,” said Dominic. “Things are always changing.”

“Working on the farm gives us a sense of pride,” said Joshua.

The Pitiglianos all agree that they have a bunch of great people working with them, which makes farming even more enjoyable.

The story of how the Pitiglianos came to the Valley starts with Charlie's grandfather, Ben Lapadula. He came from Italy and landed in Boston in 1909. From there, Lapadula boarded a train to Los Banos to meet with his brother and found work cutting meat for 90 cents a day. After three years, Lapadula was able to save $300 and move to Los Angeles.

According to Charlie, his grandfather worked as a groomsman (groundskeeper) for a cemetery in the Los Angeles area and eventually started his own gardening business for the rich and famous. In 1918, he started doing the lawn for a lady in a small town in the area.

In the early 1920s, the lady asked Lapadula to move to Pixley and run her 720-acre ranch, which had been losing money.

“My grandfather was able to make a profit after the first year,” says Charlie. “He was her foreman for about five to seven years.”

While here, Lapadula rented land and partnered up with J.G. Boswell, growing cotton as a sharecropper to earn extra money.

“Before the depression hit, Grandfather sold his cotton for 26 cents,” says Charlie. “Later that season when the depression hit, cotton was sold for six cents.”

With cash in hand, Lapadula was able to buy property for $100 an acre. “He was able to purchase 320 acres,” said Charlie.

Over the next few years, Lapadula continued to grow crops and purchase more land. By the late 1940s, Lapadula had over 600 acres in Tulare and Kern counties.

Charlie's father, Charles Pitigliano, was foreman for Lapadula and married Lapadula's daughter, Arlene, in 1947.

Lapadula gave Charlie and his parents 620 acres of land to start farming as their own in 1975 and over the years the acreage has expanded considerably. Charlie and Nancy took over the business when his father passed away in 1999.

The Pitiglianos are very active in Tulare. Both Charlie and Nancy are active with various organizations—Charlie was recently named president of the International Agri-Center board of directors and Nancy was the first woman president of the Tulare County Farm Bureau.

“We have taught our boys that they need to give back to the community,” says Nancy, “with both time and money.”

The Pitilgianos have planted themselves here for the long haul and look forward to growing more generations on the same ground that they started on. Michael is married with children who potentially could be the fifth generation and Joshua is getting married this weekend.

Railroad Land Deal Chugs Along

Tulare - Jim Holve has owned the Tulare Car Wash since 1994. The land it sits on is leased from Union Pacific Railroad (UPR).

“My original intent was to buy the property from the railroad,” said Holve.

But last summer, the Tulare Redevelopment Agency (TRA) moved forward with eminent domain proceedings on an area of railroad-owned land that includes the Tulare Car Wash property.

The eminent domain case has made him an unwilling party to the legal action.

“If they were going to build a school or something, that would be one thing,” said Holve.

Tulare businessman, Jim Pidgeon, has also expressed interest in acquiring a piece of J St. property.

“Jim [Pidgeon] and I have talked,” said Holve and he believe they share similar sentiments about the eminent domain process: “It's the typical bureaucratic two-step.”

We don't have money to sit around and play footsie,” said Holve.

The uncertainty of the fate of the land beneath the Tulare Car Wash has prevented Holve from making any upgrades to it.

“I'd like to put some money into the place, upgrade it if I can keep it,” said Holve.

But Holve said he doesn't have faith that the TRA will sell to him once the TRA acquires the property from the railroad.

“They haven't been straightforward with anyone with what they want to do,” said Holve.

The new redevelopment director, Bob Nance, is becoming acquainted with the UP eminent domain situation, but could not comment on Holve's situation because he has not talked to him.

“We do have some commitments to Mr. Pidgeon,” said Nance.

Settlement conferences in the eminent domain proceedings will be held Aug. 24 for the four UPR parcels located in the TRA's downtown project area, said Herman Fitzgerald, legal counsel to the TRA.

It could be an open court proceeding to hear questions and commentary from the public, but more often than not, settlement conferences are conducted in chambers. On occasion, there will be private discussions, which are held separately, with the parties, according to Fitzgerald.

There were some tentative dates for talks in June but, “There have been some delays that we think are not our doing…It's just a fact of who's available and when,” said Fitzgerald.

Another problem: unraveling exactly who owns three billboards on the properties in question.

“There are so many requirements that have to be met [in eminent domain procedures] and everything goes through mediation,” said Fitzgerald.

Since the billboard owners have an interest in what happens to the properties, they too must be brought into the litigation.

The presence of the billboards on the land also influences the value of the property and is seen as a potential revenue generator, according to Nance.

“Once we get that [the billboards] settled, I think we'll be close to being done,” said Nance.

According to Nance, there have been discussions with other parties interested in developing the J St. properties, including the Orosco Group of Monterey.

In the past, developer Paul Quong of Orange County also had expressed an interest in developing the 10 acres south of Inyo on J St. for a neighborhood shopping center.

“They've got pie-in-the-sky ideas and want to do wonders…It leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” said Holve.

Neither Paul Quong nor Don Orosco could be reached for comment regarding their current intentions on development in the J St. area.

Truck Stop Eyes Tulare

Tulare - Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores are negotiating with the City of Tulare over a possible location on Paige Ave. off Highway 99. The company is in its “due diligence” phase on a privately owned 10-acre parcel west of 99 say reliable sources. The Oklahoma company has 160 locations nationwide, including several in California – the nearest is in Ripon. The city hopes to land the big company to open one of its signature stops here, a development that could attract other trucking-related companies. At issue will be the cost of offsite improvements the company must pay for – likely a new signalization of Blackstone at Paige. CalTrans is still looking to upgrade the Paige interchange and any development proposed nearby has to pay a fair share of the improvement expenses the extra traffic generates. Sources say, however, that the city understands that if the price tag for improvement gets too big, the company will likely select another location. The city has been working with Love’s for about six months. A top city official says, “We’re going to make it happen.”

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The above stories are the property of The Valley Voice Newspaper and may not be reprinted without explicit permission in writing from the publisher. 


July 5, 2006

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