The Portland City Council voted unanimously this morning—amid catcalls, hisses and shouts, with eight separate citizen ejections from council chambers—to fluoridate Portland's drinking water.
During the vote, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said she suspected this issue will ultimately be decided by the voters.
She may be right. Before the ink even dried on the fluoridation vote, Kim Kaminski, director of Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, has said that the group had already filed a public referendum with the city that would halt fluoridation plans and refer the vote to the public in May of 2014 or during a special election.
As soon as the group receives an ordinance number from the city, Kaminski says, they will mobilize a group of over 125 volunteers to gather signatures. With money from citizen contributions, they also plan to pay 25 additional signature gatherers.
Still, it will be an uphill fight for the group. Portland's referendum process requires that in order to refer the city council's fluoridation vote to the public, the group would need to gather 19,868 signatures within a mere 30 days.
Even if the signature gathering effort on the referendum fails during the short 30-day time frame, Citizens for Safe Drinking Water are simultaneously gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would prohibit fluoridation; the group would have until January of 2014 to gather the approximately
20,000 30,000 needed signatures for that initiative.
Mel Rader, co-director of pro-fluoridation advocacy group Upstream Public Health, has said the group will likely organize informational campaigns against any referendum or initiative that makes it onto the ballot, but says it's too early for them to commit to any specific actions.
Meanwhile, outside city hall after the vote, a group of over twenty anti-fluoridation protestors gathered outside, chanting, "This is what dictatorship looks like! This is what dictatorship looks like!" in protest of the lack of public vote.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, though she voted for fluoridation, voiced serious misgivings during the council vote about the speed with which fluoridation has been pushed through the city council (by City Commissioner Randy Leonard and Upstream Public Health), especially since voters have rejected fluoridation three times. In the end, though, she said she had to vote based on the preponderance of scientific evidence and what she believes is in the public good.
Randy Leonard has said fluoride could be in the water as early as March 2014. A referendum would block this until the public decides the issue, while a ballot initiative against fluoridation would not affect fluoride implementation.