Although Redding voters will get a whack at water fluoridation, the state of California may wind up deciding the issue.
The City Council on Tuesday voted 3-0 to throw a Safe Drinking Water initiative onto the November ballot. Council members Mark Cibula and Dave McGeorge were absent.
The vote came despite a warning from a state official the city must fluoridate now that it has the money to do so.
A 1995 law mandates fluoridation in cities with more than 10,000 water customers if they can line up money outside local taxes, rates, fees or the general fund. Redding is the only Shasta County city large enough to fall under that law.
The Shasta Oral Health Task Force – a group of medical professionals and educators who have lobbied for fluoridation in Redding – has lined up foundation grants to cover $1.82 million of the $2.2 million the city would spend to install fluoridation equipment and run it for one year.
The Shasta County Public Health Department has budgeted a $100,000 contribution to fluoridation, while the county Children and Families First Commission recently approved $173,772 in tobacco tax money for equipment.
“Once the funding appears, the law is triggered,” said Dr. David Nelson, of the state Department of Health Services. “You must comply.”
The state attorney general will send Mayor Pat Kight a letter ordering fluoridation within two years, Nelson said.
City Attorney Len Wingate, appearing at his last council meeting before his July 12 retirement, disagreed with Nelson. The 1995 law would apply only if there were no strings attached to the funding, Wingate said. The city must repay the foundation grants if it does not commit to fluoridation for 10 years.
Nelson, meanwhile, urged the council to reject the Safe Drinking Water initiative, which would forbid the city from adding chemicals to the water supply whose health claims lack federal Food and Drug Administration approval. That list includes fluoride but not chemicals like chlorine, which keep water drinkable.
Citizens for Safe Drinking Water had gathered 4,270 valid signatures over six months – a couple hundred more than it needed to qualify the initiative for council adoption or the November ballot.
The council could reject the initiative outright only if it was blatantly illegal, Wingate said. But the proposed Safe Drinking Water law is not illegal on its face, he said.
Some 11 speakers exhorted the council to adopt the initiative and wait for the attorney general’s enforcement letter. That way, the city would avoid a rancorous debate, many said.
Councilwoman Mary Stegall noted the irony in this appeal.
“This council was criticized by many of you for deciding to look at the feasibility of fluoridation without asking voters,” she said. “Now you’re saying we should not give voters a chance to decide. That’s contradictory.”
A council vote to adopt the Safe Drinking Water law would obligate the city attorney’s office to defend it, Wingate said. It would mean that the council has decided it opposes fluoridation, reversing its 4-1 endorsement in September.
Wingate recommended that the council, instead, challenge the ballot measure in court before the November election. The challenge would stand even if voters approve the Safe Drinking Water initiative, he said.
Earlier in the evening, Mayor Pat Kight honored Wingate, who has served as Redding’s City Attorney since 1995. The council appointed Assistant City Attorney Dave Tranberg to act in Wingate’s place until the city hires a replacement – possibly in September.