Environmental Commons, 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 generations."

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 processes.

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 http://www.environmentalcommons.org

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