It may be tempting to want to put off the decision on whether or not to fluoridate the city’s water supply until the decision absolutely has to be made. After all, it figures to be a bitterly divisive and emotional issue. With so many more pressing issues on the table from the city’s perspective, an ugly fight on fluoridation is the last thing they want.
The problem is that as long as the issue of fluoridation hangs over the water project, the water project itself – facing lawsuits and a possible initiative – might be in trouble.
The pro-fluoridation side may be underestimating their adversary. They argue that that the misinformation has already been addressed and corrected by national experts. They say that there are only a few very vocal opponents who apparently either do not understand or care to be educated on this topic.
And they believe, apparently, that ultimately the issue would succeed.
But all one needs to do is look at the FIVE times that fluoridation has already come before the city of Davis, most recently in 1991, with three in the early 1960s and one in the early 1970s. The issue has been surprisingly polarizing and pervasive.
Staff states that they “feel” that “it would be appropriate to move Council consideration of whether to add fluoridation until after the DWWSP is constructed and has been operating at least a year. This will allow the Council to accurately assess the initial and ongoing cost for fluoridation that would be borne by the ratepayers.”
On June 27, 2013, the City of Davis Water Advisory Committee (WAC) voted to recommend to the city council to add fluoride to the drinking water. As staff notes, during the course of the WAC deliberation, information regarding the range of potential capital, operations and maintenance cost were discussed.
“The current WAC was asked by Council to provide a recommendation on fluoridation prior to conclusion of their work. Because the Council will be re-forming the committee as a rate advisory committee at the end of this calendar year, the current WAC action needed to take place this year,” staff notes.
However, the actual timing would occur once the water supply project is on line, since “once a decision is made to add fluoride, every water source the city draws from has to be equipped to ensure proper dosing.” As staff explains, “We cannot add it to some wells and not others.”
As we have stated in the past, we believe any attempt to add fluoride to the water will trigger a citizens’ response that will put the matter to a vote of the people – as occurred twice in the 1960s where it was a split decision that ultimately led to it being voted down.
Frankly, we see similar dynamics at work. There is a vocal group of opponents and a vocal group of supporters, but the larger populace is relatively unengaged on the issue.
Putting it on the ballot, particularly in a special election, would see the true believers on both sides come out, but may not engage attention from the foggy middle.
We have suggested in the past that it could be defeated outright in an election, but there is frankly a far more serious danger, at least from the perspective of the city.
The danger is that, with a court challenge and a potential ballot initiative, the issue of fluoride would get rolled up with the issue of the surface water project.
It was a relatively tight race on the water project, about a 54-46 spread, or about 1000 votes. But city leaders wisely (from their perspective) fought to keep the issue not only off the ballot but out of the community conversation, fearing that conflating the issue of fluoridation with that of whether or not we need and should have a surface water project could be fatal to the project.
Once the issue of voter support for the surface water project was decided in the March 2013 election, the issue of fluoridation was fair game and took center stage.
The WAC held a series of meetings, first listening to the pro-fluoridation side, then the opposition. Finally they made their decision to support adding fluoride to the water supply project.
But in the meantime, Michael Harrington, Pam Nieberg and Ernie Head have not allowed the surface water project issue to rest. In addition to their court challenge, they have authored an initiative that requires about 1165 signatures to get on the ballot and would challenge the water rates.
However, the danger, from the perspective of the city and those favoring the surface water project, is that as long as fluoridation looms as an issue, the issue of the surface water project and fluoridation become intermeshed and conflated.
A number of people have spoken up on the Vanguard and said that it was a close call for them, but they had decided to support the surface water project. However, had they known that would have meant fluoridation, they would have gone the other way.
Are there 500 such people in town? Look no further than people like Alan Pryor – a strong proponent of surface water who has led the way against fluoridation.
It is a dangerous prospect from the city’s perspective.
One of the unspoken reasons why staff may be putting this issue off is that there is a lack of clear consensus from the council. While Dan Wolk has come out in favor of fluoridation, Brett Lee has looked at alternatives, and Joe Krovoza has expressed concerns about the impact of the issue on the surface water project.
Our view is if the issue of fluoridation is allowed to linger, the opponents of the water project will be able to use fluoridation to give their fight new energy and new allies.
We do not believe their electoral efforts will prove successful, given the outcome of Measure I, but with fluoridation on the table and delayed for a few years, that might give people who might otherwise support the water project a reason for opposition.
—David M. Greenwald reporting