The California Supreme Court declined to hear the city of Watsonville’s fluoridation case Wednesday, ending a four-year legal battle over adding the substance to city water.
The decision, which paves the way for fluoridation in Watsonville, came two days after Santa Cruz County officials touted fluoridation as the best way to fight dental disease among children.
“It is the single most effective way to help prevent tooth decay,” county health officer Poki Namkung said Monday during the release of a study that found nearly three-quarters of California children suffer from tooth decay.
Fluoridation opponent Nick Bulaich called the Supreme Court decision “a bad day for voters,” a majority of whom in Watsonville voted for Measure S, which banned adding substances not approved by the FDA to city water in 2002. He added that the city still has the right to pick which type of fluoride it wants in the water supply.
“The voters got screwed,” Bulaich said. “But the real test is coming: Who does this council really represent? The city can go out and get estimates for a chemical that doesn’t contain arsenic.”
Bulaich’s request for “depublication” of a December Sixth Appellate Court ruling against the city was also denied. The request would have meant the ruling did not set precedent for other state cases.
“That’s the end of the case,” City Attorney Alan Smith said after learning of the Supreme Court decision. “We have a court of appeal decision that says the state law pre-empts local ordinance.”
Wynne Grossman, executive director of the California Dental Foundation, who joined a coalition to decide where money to fund fluoridation was headed, said Wednesday afternoon she was pleased with the court’s decision.
“We do support fluoridation in the water supply,” Grossman said. “We have a lot of dental disease out there, and there needs to be steps taken to prevent it. Fluoridation is one of those steps, although it is not the only one.”
Grossman guessed that moving from the planning stages to construction of a fluoridation system could take several years.
The Watsonville City Council will likely have to weigh a new offer to fund fluoridation, though Smith said there were none on the table yet. If there is an offer, Watsonville is not required to accept if it will cost the city money, Smith added.
Wednesday’s decision brings the city back to where it was in April 2002, when the City Council accepted funding from the California Dental Association to pay for construction of a fluoridation system and part of the first year’s operations.
Locals then joined Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, leading the drive for Measure S. After the measure passed in November 2002, the city rejected a revised offer from the CDA that dropped the fluoridation requirement from 10 years to one year.
After the state Department of Health ordered the city to comply with the offer, Watsonville pursued the case in Santa Cruz Superior Court. Superior Court Judge Robert Atack ruled in August 2004 that state law trumped Watsonville’s Measure S, and the Sixth Appellate Court upheld the decision in October.