Location: Watsonville California

Yes on S ahead by narrowest of margins

By Dave Brooks
Nov 7, 2002

After months of wrangling between medical professionals and Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, the debate to fluoridate will be decided by votes not yet counted. With uncanny similarities to a successful 1999 attempt in the city of Santa Cruz to block fluoride, Maureen Jones and her grassroots band of activists have gained a small lead in the attempt to stop that or any additive from going into Watsonville's water.

The election was the closest amongst the city contests, with the anti-fluoride forces pulling off an extremely narrow lead, only 32 votes ahead. The final vote tally was 2,600 in favor of Measure S and 2,568 opposed. Measure S is a ban on public water additives that are claimed to have health benefits. A "yes" vote will block fluoridation of the water.

In a 1999 attempt to block fluoridation in Santa Cruz, Jones, then allied with Santa Cruz resident Lois Kirby, defeated the additive after a final count gave the group a squeaking victory. On election night, Jones and Kirby were leading by only 70 votes.

"Too close to call," is how Nick Bulaich, spokesperson for the "Yes on Measure S" campaign, described the final tally. It's likely that the final vote won't be available for several weeks. Election officials still need to tally provisional ballots - votes where the residency of the voter is in question. After the voter's eligibility has been established, their vote will be counted. Election officials will also look at remake ballots - ballots that had to be copied on to separate ballots because the original could not be processed by the counting machines.

Not all of the absentee ballots have been factored in either. Gail Tellerin, elections manager for the county of Santa Cruz, said thousands of absentee, provisional and remake ballots still need to be counted. "We can't give specific numbers in terms of how many ballots went uncounted in the county or in Watsonville's 24 districts," Tellerin said. The Elections Department has 28 days to return a final vote tally, "but hopes to be completed much sooner than that," said Tellerin.

As of Tuesday night, the Citizens for Safe Drinking Water were leading in counted absentee ballots, 691 in favor and 619 against. Yet with an unknown amount of votes still expected to come in, both sides are keeping their fingers crossed.

Laurie Hester, treasurer for "No on Measure S," said her group didn't expect to do as well as they did. "I'm surprised that the 'no campaign' did so good considering how misleading the measure was stated," she said. "The people who voted 'no' on the issue were educated on the merits of fluoridation. The people who voted in favor don't fully understand the benefits."

"We ran a campaign as clean as spring water," Bulaich said. The Citizens for Safe Drinking Water refute Hester's claim, arguing that dentists are blindly accepting what they were taught in medical school. "Dentists don't want to come out of the closet on this," said Bulaich, who argues that he knows several dentists who are against fluoride but are afraid to say so. "After 50 years of supporting fluoride, the ADA, the AMA and the federal government don't want to admit that they're wrong and that fluoride is a scientific fraud. Many dentists get their home loans and student loans from the ADA. Do you think they're going to come out against them?"