Thanks, but no thanks.
The city of Redding on Friday declined a $1.6 million California Dental Association Foundation grant for water fluoridation equipment. That move sets up a possible showdown with the state over a 1995 law requiring fluoridation once such grant money is offered.
In his letter to the foundation, City Manager Mike Warren pointed to Measure A, the initiative forbidding chemicals in the water supply lacking federal Food and Drug Administration approval for their health claims. Redding voters Nov. 5 approved the measure 56 percent to 44 percent.
“Everyone knew what that vote was about, even if the word ‘fluoride‘ wasn’t in there,” Warren said Friday. “My job is to look at that vote and abide by it unless the courts say otherwise.”
Warren sent a memo to City Council members explaining that he planned to turn down the grant offer unless someone wanted to put the matter on a meeting agenda. None had by Friday, Warren said.
The City Council voted 4-1 in September 2001 to endorse the idea of accepting grant money for water fluoridation. In October 2001, it ordered fluoridation cost studies.
The California Dental Association Foundation offered the city just over $1.6 million toward fluoridation equipment in a Nov. 1 letter. The Sierra Health Foundation had offered an additional $225,000 and the Shasta County Public Health Department, $100,000. The $1.9 million would cover fluoridating the city’s two treatment plants and 14 wells.
Jon Roth, the dental foundation’s executive director, sent the grant offer after the Nov. 5 election, knowing Measure A passed. The letter arrived at City Hall on Nov. 8.
No one is sure what will happen next.
Under the 1995 law, known as Assembly Bill 733, the state can order cities to fluoridate and fine them if they don’t. AB 733 trumps local laws forbidding the chemical, Attorney General Bill Lockyer wrote in a 2000 opinion.
Dr. Donald Lyman, who heads the state Department of Health Services division handling fluoridation, said AB 733 went into effect in Redding the moment the foundation offered the grant.
“The city may express an opinion that it doesn’t want the money, but they are required to proceed,” Lyman said Friday.
The state has yet to enforce the law or try it in court.
Lea Brooks, a Department of Health Services spokesperson, said the agency wants to see the city’s letter declining the grant money before deciding what to do.
Redding isn’t the first city to turn down fluoridation funding. Modesto did so – and escaped AB 733.
Modesto’s City Council declined a California Dental Association Foundation grant after voters rejected fluoridation 3-2 in November 2001, council minutes show. That ballot measure asked voters whether the city should fluoridate and hike water rates 2 percent to pay for the program.
Roth maintains the foundation pulled its grant offer after the Modesto vote.
The foundation will keep its money on the table in Redding, Roth has said.
Marta McKenzie directs Shasta County’s Public Health Department and sits on the Shasta Oral Health Task Force. The coalition of doctors, dentists and educators lobbied the City Council to endorse fluoridation under AB 733.
“I think it’s really in the state’s hands whether or not they are going forward with Redding,” McKenzie said Friday. “We continue to think fluoridation is a public health issue and we will continue to support it.”
McKenzie said there is “some sympathy” in the task force for another ballot measure, this time asking voters directly whether they support fluoridation.
Michel Czehatowski chairs Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, the grass-roots organization that put Measure A on the ballot and campaigned for it.
Told Friday about Warren’s decision to decline the grant money, Czehatowski said he was pleased that city leaders are listening to the voters.
Czehatowski added he’d like to see the county Health Department put the $100,000 it set aside for water fluoridation into topical fluoride treatment for school children.
“Let’s do something to help kids’ teeth now,” Czehatowski said, noting that the city would need about two years to launch water fluoridation.
Reporter Scott Mobley can be reached at 225-8220 or at email@example.com.
Note from Jeff Green, Citizens for Safe Drinking Water:
Still missing from the report (although the reporter has had the documents in his hands) is the existence of another State law that requires that water districts under the Municipal Utilities District Act of the Public Utilities Code (Section 12814) obtain a majority vote of the people before fluoridating.
One must wonder how the Attorney General of California could have missed addressing that law’s existence in his highly touted opinion; but then again, since when does an attorney’s opinion replace a Court’s determination of law?
Redding is not restrained by the PUC, but the State contention that a Charter City (with its own Constitution) can be arbitrarily compelled to fluoridate when the State law is not applied uniformly conflicts with settled law concerning the issue of State preemption.
In addition, the 1995 state law most frequently described as “mandating” fluoridation, when it is compelled, must occur according to a priority list of cities based on the lowest cost per connection. Redding is positioned at No. 76.