Fluoride Action Network

Watsonville: Fluoridation, fishy funding and a flawed process

Source: Register-Pajaronian | February 27th, 2010 | By Steve Bankhead

The Feb. 23 letter from Rowland Rebele supporting the forced fluoridation of Watsonville’s water concluded with the need to disagree agreeably. Since Mr. Rebele’s considerable wealth has allowed him to provide substantial financial support to the Santa Cruz homeless shelter and other causes, he certainly deserves respect … so I’ll proceed accordingly.

His opening point mentioned how narrowly Watsonville voters defeated fluoride with Measure S, an objection echoed in the Feb. 24 Santa Cruz Sentinel editorial, which also supported fluoridation. What both failed to mention was that Santa Cruz voted down fluoridation in 1999 by an even thinner margin of 74 votes. And if a wider margin of votes lends legitimacy, then what about Watsonville’s earlier votes in 1954 (74 percent “no” by a 1,611-vote margin) and 1965 (69 percent “no” by a 999-vote margin). What part of “no” do they not understand?

Mr. Rebele mentions Watsonville “will most likely have to pick up the cost of fluoridation” after the grant money runs out with the carefree attitude one would expect from an Aptos resident who, unlike Watsonville residents, won’t be stuck with the expense of litigation and other costs. And the funding California Dental Association has also been doing a skilled contractual bob and weave to avoid that liability.

Of course, Mr. Rebele will also not have fluoride added to his own house water. I don’t greatly care if Aptos votes to add medical marijuana, steroids or Pepto-Bismol to its water, since as a nonresident I have no physical or financial stake in the matter. And I’ll very respectfully remind Mr. Rebele that he likewise has no legitimate right to say what goes into my water.

As for the findings of the ad hoc committee … I’m hopeful, but not much. Our entanglement with the CDA contract dates back to 2002 when council members Ana Phares and Rafael Lopez led the council majority to accept CDA funding. That was disquieting, since the state’s fluoridation push was through our county health department. Phares was a county employee, and I believe Lopez’ executive position with the First 5 organization was funded by tobacco taxes funneled through the county health department; so the impression was of them representing their employers instead of constituents.

That impression was strengthened when Phares and Lopez attempted passing a motion to toss out the qualifying petitions to put Measure S on the ballot, until the city attorney reminded them they couldn’t legally do that. Those council members’ seats have since been filled by Kimberly Petersen (also a county employee) and Manuel Bersamin, who has publicly expressed his own disdain for residents attempting to argue strongly against fluoridation. The fact that they now comprise a two-thirds majority of the ad hoc committee is discouraging.

As for Mayor Luis Alejo being the current council’s main fluoride pusher, his questionable connection to fluoride lobbyist (and former employer) Manny Diaz has already been reported. And despite his claim of receiving no monetary assistance from Diaz, later news reports have shown his Assembly campaign fund received $1,000 from another client of Diaz, plus $250 from the lobbyist’s wife, apparently under her maiden name. And the fact that Mayor Alejo recently deposited $5,396 into his own campaign chest despite going through foreclosure of his home adds even more food for thought.

Finally, I must comment on the repeated defense of Councilman Bersamin that he’s forced to support fluoridation because “it’s the law.” That reminds me of the May 8, 2007, council meeting when, as mayor, Bersamin not only voted to make Watsonville a “sanctuary city,” but also attempted to pass an additional clause that the police department share any notice of impending action by immigration agents so the city government could issue a community alert.

That leaves a final impression of someone supporting the obstruction of federal government efforts to enforce its immigration laws, but now bowing in deference to a state effort at forcing Watsonville residents to ingest a chemical that has been banned from water supplies in almost all European nations. It seems that in our farming community, not all cherry-picking is done in the fields. Some is done in government chambers by politicians deciding which laws deserve their respect.


Steve Bankhead is a Watsonville resident and small-business owner. He is a longtime contributor to the Register-Pajaronian. The opinions of columnists are not necessarily those of the Register-Pajaronian.