Assemblyman Mike GattoSACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Calif. Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) bill to help save California’s citrus industry from devastation passed the Senate today with a 38-0 vote. AB 571 would dedicate much-needed resources to stop the spread of Huanglongbing (HLB), a disease that destroys citrus trees and has no known cure.

HLB was spotted in Southern California last year but has not yet crossed into the Central Valley, where California’s citrus industry produces 82% of the nation’s fresh fruit and directly employs more than 14,000 people. If it does, growers are worried that our state’s citrus industry will be destroyed, taking thousands of jobs and more than $500 million dollars in tax revenue with it. Other jurisdictions have faced similar devastation – Florida, for example, lost 8,200 jobs and $4.5 billion in lost crops over the last five years. It has also hurt severely the citrus industry in Asia, Africa, Brazil, and Central America.

“Agriculture forms a large part of California’s economy,” said Gatto. “It is appropriate, likely even a duty, for the Legislature to take steps to prevent HLB from spreading.”

HLB is carried by an invasive pest called the Asian Citrus Psyllid. In July 2013, ABC7 (Los Angeles) news reported that the number of pests in California are rising rapidly and beginning to spread. They described HLB as “the most deadly citrus disease in modern history,” with the potential to “wipe out California’s citrus crop.”

Joel Nelson, President of California Citrus Mutual, expressed immense concern about HLB and gratitude for Assemblyman Gatto’s action to address the issue. “We are just ecstatic that someone in Sacramento cares enough about jobs to make sure that we don’t lose everything because of this exotic pest,” said Nelson. “We thank Assemblyman Gatto for convincing his colleagues, particularly his urban colleagues, of the big picture on this issue.”

Other major California industries have been threatened by outside influences in the past, and policy makers often lament the lack of foresight to stave off the losses before they became too large to recover. One example is California’s wine industry, which was almost destroyed by a pest called phylloxera. Similarly, changing federal dynamics and aggressive tactics in other jurisdictions caused the state’s aerospace and entertainment industries to be threatened, leading Gatto to push for policymakers to more carefully consider the long-term impacts of their decisions.

“California cannot afford to lose another of its ‘signature’ industries,” said Gatto. “AB 571 is a proactive measure that will save money and jobs for one of our most iconic and important industries – California citrus.”

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.