In an op-ed in the local paper, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk joins with the executive director of First 5 Yolo, Julie Gallelo, and former Woodland Mayor Art Pimentel to argue, “The partnership between Davis and Woodland on our surface water project provides both communities the most cost-effective solution to do what we should have done years ago: fluoridate our water.”
But despite the fact that “across the nation, more than 70 percent of people utilize community fluoridation,” the topic has proven to be highly controversial, not just this year, but for the last fifty years in the city of Davis.
When the issue of the surface water project came up, leaders in Davis rightly avoided mixing the issue of fluoridation with that of surface water, fearing that by conflating the issues, it would dilute the support for Measure I – which ended up passing relatively narrowly, 54-46 percent, by about 1000 votes.
In the ensuing months, as the issue of fluoridation has emerged, some have cried foul over the fact that the water issue was separated from fluoridation to begin with. However, it seems appropriate to separate the issue of water supply from the issue of fluoridation.
Nevertheless, during those discussions it became clear that a number of individuals, who ended up on the fence about whether to support Measure I and ultimately voted for it, oppose the notion of fluoridation. A number of posters have, in fact, indicated that they supported the water supply project but would not have, had fluoridation been an included issue.
From the start, we believed that, if fluoridation were placed on the ballot for a straight up or down vote, more likely than not it would fail. While there is a strong core of supporters in the health community, there is a more vocal group of opposition that would be galvanized. In fact, we would see an interesting coalition of progressives and conservatives emerge in opposition.
However, now the fluoridation issue figures to become more tricky.
In yesterday’s commentary, we argued that the surface water project faced considerable peril, due in part to the lawsuit filed by Michael Harrington, Ernie Head and Pam Nieberg. In addition, even if the court does not strike the water rates passed under a Prop 218 process, an initiative only needs 1165 signatures to qualify.
Invalidating the rates either through initiative or court order could potentially invalidate Measure I in its entirety, as the language of the ballot measure indicates that permission would be granted “subject to the adoption of water rates in accordance with the California Constitution (Prop 218).”
If the rates are gone, Measure I could be gone, as well.
The idea of putting the rates on the ballot through the initiative might not seem all that concerning at first. After all, Measure I passed by a 54-46 margin back in March. But that is where things get tricky.
Imagine that, in the next few months, Davis follows the lead of Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk, who has now become the first elected city official to support the idea of fluoridation. If the initiative gets placed on the ballot, not only does that become an initiative on water rates, it becomes a de facto initiative on fluoridation.
All of a sudden, the issues that some worked hard to keep separated back in March come together to form an interesting coalition. Suddenly, all of the people who have been opposing the surface water project are joined by all of the people opposed to fluoridation.
Even if you have the exact same dynamics as you did in March, do you think the fluoridation issue could cause 500 people to switch sides?
The issue may be even trickier than this. Let us suppose that the council decides to defer the issue of fluoridation until after the lawsuit and initiative are resolved – what happens then?
There seems to be a good possibility that even the specter of fluoridation could be enough to produce the coalition of the unwilling. After all, the kitchen sink approach has been the veritable raison d’etre for the opposition to the surface water project anyway, and all they really have to do is point out to the public that there have been plans for fluoridating the water and by voting against the water rates, this is a way to stop it.
Think that tactic will not work? Given the nexus between the forces against fluoridation and irrational conspiracy theories, it seems very likely that, even with fluoridation tabled, the opponents of fluoridation will turn the initiative on the water rates into a de facto initiative on fluoridation.
The great irony is that those who have been most vocal about pushing for fluoridation – Don Saylor, Art Pimentel and Dan Wolk, among others, are strong proponents of the surface water project. Their push for fluoridation could end up risking the viability of the surface water project.
Given the dynamics playing out in Davis, and what would seem to be strong enough opposition to fluoridation that it is likely it would not even survive an up or down vote, if the Davis City Council wishes to save the surface water project from what could be almost certain doom, they have to effectively kill the possibility of fluoridation.
They have to take the fluoridation issue completely off the table. No longer is it enough to table the discussion. The moment the issue of fluoridation was raised it became the poison pill for the water project.
And they have to do this quickly. They would have to pass a measure that the Davis water supply could not be fluoridated for a certain amount of years and that any effort to fluoridate the water would have to be subject to voter approval.
If they do that, that would effectively remove the issue of fluoridation from the table and once again the surface water project would at least stand a chance of remaining approved by the voters – in the case that the initiative backers are able to qualify their initiative for the ballot with 1165 signatures.
—David M. Greenwald reporting