Despite a $1.5 million offer in February from the California Dental Association Foundation to fluoridate Watsonville water, what promises to be a fiery debate over accepting the money will not hit the City Council for months.
According to City Manager Carlos Palacios, concerns linger about the offer that will stall discussion until at least May. Chief among his concerns is a provision for indemnification — meaning that the CDAF requires that the city pay any future legal fees incurred because of fluoridation.
“They want us to indemnify them and we don’t want do it,” he said. Palacios expects to send a letter to the CDAF explaining the city’s concerns in the next few weeks.
But Jon Roth, executive director of the CDAF, which acts as the charitable arm of the California Dental Association, said such practices are standard practice in contract law.
“We’re only a funding agency in this,” Roth said. “If there were any future issue, there’s no connection. We would not be held liable.”
He added that potential legal costs are not an appropriate reason to reject the offer. “From our perspective, the courts were very clear that the funding offer was deemed a reasonable offer,” he added.
The latest fluoride debate comes after the Sixth Appellate Court in 2006 upheld an earlier ruling forcing Watsonville to comply with a 2002 fluoridation offer from the CDA. That offer was accepted by the city but opponents fought it with voter-approved Measure S, which banned adding substances not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to city water. Watsonville then took the case to court.
With the new offer, Palacios said another worry is whether the grant will cover all construction and operating costs. The funding amount was based on city estimates, which were prepared in 2003 and updated six months ago, but final costs remain unknown.
“Until you actually get the bids in, you never know,” Palacios said. “What happens if the bid comes in over the budget estimate? We want some assurance that they would cover those costs.”
Palacios is also concerned that the offer provides only two years of funding for operation and maintenance. When that money runs out, Watsonville’s voter-approved Measure S would kick in, according to Palacios.
“The state legislation is only effective when we have an offer of grant funds. Once those funds stop, then the state legislation no longer applies to us,” he added.
In response to city concerns about future funding for fluoridation, Roth said a local coalition is already lining up money. He added that the CDAF could potentially provide new funding after the original grant ends.
As for a timeline, the February offer calls for design and construction to be completed in 18 months. Even with the city’s delays, Roth said he is confident that timeline will be met.