Environmental Commons  [Printer-friendly version]
October 1, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: Supervisors of this northern California
county will spend 90 days studying how the precautionary principle
might affect local decision-making and governance.]

By Britt Bailey

At its Sept. 27 Board Meeting, the Mendocino County [Calif.] Board of
Supervisors approved a request by the Mendocino County Public Health
Advisory Board to "conduct a ninety-day study of the precautionary
principle." Proponents say the precautionary principle would provide a
guiding framework for policy planning and decision-making at the
departmental level.

The Sept. 27th decision reversed the Board's 3-2 vote a week earlier
opposing study of the precautionary principle.

According to Sara O'Donnell, a member of the newly-formed "Mendocino
Partnership for the Precautionary Principle" and Director of the
Cancer Resource Center, "The Board's action [Sept. 27] is an important
first step in the development of a way we as a county make decisions.
The precautionary principle provides a guiding framework that will
allow us to take into account more fully the ways in which local
government impacts our resources, health, and well-being of future

Supervisor Hal Wagenet placed the item on the agenda Sept. 27,
reversing his Sept. 20 vote against the precautionary principle.
Wagenet said, "You all may be wondering why I am bringing this back?
We have tough times ahead and we will need all of the tools in our
toolbox to guide us in the right direction. I realized that I am not
interested in winning the race as I am surviving the race."

Fifth District Supervisor David Colfax says that over the next three
months the standing General Government Committee of the Board of
Supervisors will be reviewing ways in which the precautionary
principle can be integrated into County government planning and policy

According to Colfax, "One of the key elements of the precautionary
principle is that decision-making be transparent and community-
friendly, and to that end I expect that the monthly meetings of our
committee will be well-attended, informative, and productive."

Colfax says that he hopes that a "guiding and formalizing" county
ordinance could be put forward early in 2006.

Supervisors who voted "no" Sept. 20 said they did so because they
viewed precaution as a "job killer." One supervisor was offended by
the principle's emphasis on democratic decision-making: "I take
offense at the precautionary principle and its references to
'participatory democracy'," he said.

The Mendocino Partnership for the Precautionary Principle has
scheduled two public forums where residents can learn more about the
Principle and its implications. The first will be held on October 13th
in Fort Bragg, and the second on October 14th in Willits.

The featured speaker at both forums is Dr. Mary O'Brien, author of
Making Better Environmental Decisions: An Alternative to Risk
Assessment (ISBN 0-262-65053-3).

For more information, see www.mendoprecaution.org or contact the
Environmental Commons at (707) 884-5002.

See FAQs for further details on the precautionary principle.

Environmental Commons
PO Box 1135
Gualala, CA 95445
(707) 884-5002

Other contacts:

J. David Colfax
Supervisor-Fifth District
Mendocino County
(707) 895-3241

Sara O'Donnell, Executive Director
Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County
(707) 467-3828

Carol Mordhorst, Director of Public Health
Mendocino County Public Health Department
(707) 472-2777