Watsonville residents won’t be drinking fluoridated water yet.
On a 4-3 vote, the City Council decided not to accept a $2 million grant to pay for fluoridation until details of a contract with the California Dental Association Foundation are finalized.
The vote came after more than two hours of public testimony on both sides of the divisive issue, which has pitted health care professionals against people concerned about the safety of the practice.
“I’m very concerned with people’s rights,” said Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich. “I don’t like that we don’t have all the parts of the contract solidified. I think more of the details need to be worked out and they’re not there tonight.”
Fluoridation has been debated in the city for most of the past decade. The city has fought fluoridation, but state law requires cities with more than 10,000 water connections to fluoridate if outside money is available.
City and foundation officials have been negotiating a contract for the grant since 2006, but have not reached agreement on language related to liability and legal remedies for any breach of contract.
But few speakers discussed the contract, which most on the council agreed was the only issue left to them after a court ruled the city had to fluoridate if it was given funding.
Health professionals pointed to scientific support for fluoridation and local statistics that show dental care is less accessible in the Pajaro Valley than elsewhere in Santa Cruz County.
“We know prevention works,” said Kathleen King, executive director of the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust. “It’s been proven time and time again and fluoridation is our best prevention care.”
Sister Julie Hyer, executive director of Salud Para La Gente, also urged the council to move forward.
“Now is the time to act in accordance with California law and the prevailing scientific evidence,” Hyer said.
But fluoride foes expressed anger that their will, as shown in a 2002 voter-approved city initiative that effectively banned introduction of the substance into the water supply, would be ignored.
Watsonville resident Sam Earnshaw said fluoridation isn’t needed and even if it were , putting fluoride in a public water supply is a disproportionate action.
“A lot of people feel this is being jammed down our throats,” Earnshaw said. “It’s an issue of democracy.”
Some from outside the city said they’d stop buying Watsonville produce and juice.
“I will dedicate the rest of my existence to sharing information about beverages produced with fluoridated water,” said Kim Tunilla of Santa Cruz.
That’s just what John Martinelli, president of S. Martinelli & Co., is worried about. Martinelli doesn’t personally believe fluoridation is either effective or safe, but he said because of widespread opposition nationwide to fluoridated water, its use in his products would “cause irreparable harm to our company, our employees.”
“I cannot put it in my products,” he said. Mayor Luis Alejo proposed accepting the contract with changes recommended by City Attorney Alan Smith and directing staff to work with Martinelli to resolve his issues. If the foundation signed off the changes, fluoridation would move forward. But that motion was narrowly defeated.
Councilwoman Kimberly Petersen said the city is walking a fine line between trying to abide by state law and upholding the will of Watsonville voters. She proposed setting up a council committee to finalize contract details and explore options for Martinelli.
The council unanimously accepted her motion.
Alejo will appoint members to the committee this week. The issue could come back before the council in late February or in March.
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