Mendocino County Board of Supervisors  [Printer-friendly version]
April 3, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County,
California has drafted a precautionary principle ordinance, which the
Board will decide whether to adopt on June 27. For a bit of
background, see the next story in this issue of Rachel's Precaution

The Board of Supervisors finds and declares that:

A. Every resident, present and future, of Mendocino County has an
equal right to a healthy and safe environment. This requires that our
air, water, earth, and food be of a sufficiently high standard that
individuals and communities can live healthy, fulfilling, and
dignified lives. The duty to enhance, protect and preserve Mendocino
County's environment, community health, and quality of life rests on
the shoulders of local government, residents, citizen groups, and
businesses alike.

B. Mendocino County and its communities have a history of making
choices based on the least environmentally harmful alternatives,
thereby challenging traditional assumptions about risk management.
Numerous protective county ordinances and policies include: 1) Barring
the aerial application of phenoxy-based herbicides; 2) Protecting
water quality by requiring an environmental impact statement when an
industrial development is proposed for siting where quality impacts
are likely; 3) Reserving adequate stream flows for protection of fish,
wildlife habitat, and other instream use; 4) Maintaining an
outstanding and award winning rural household hazardous waste program;
5) Restricting the cultivation of genetically modified crops and
livestock; and 6) Reducing pesticide applications on school

C. Historically, environmentally harmful activities have only been
stopped after they have manifested extreme environmental degradation
or major harm to people. The delay between first knowledge of harm and
appropriate action to deal with it can be measured in human lives cut
short and irreversible environmental damage.

D. The Precautionary Principle and its tenets provide overarching
guidance for the County and its individual departments to maintain and
develop policies and regulations for a healthier Mendocino County. The
Precautionary Principle will not only strengthen the foundation of
existing laws, policies and procedures but also assist in the
development of a healthy environment for current and future

E. A central element of the precautionary approach is the careful
assessment of available alternatives using the best available science.
An alternatives assessment examines a broad range of options in order
to present the public with different effects of different options
considering short-term versus long-term benefits and costs, and
evaluating and comparing the effects of each option. This reveals
options with fewer potential effects and/or greater potential benefits
to health and the natural environment. This process allows fundamental
questions to be asked: "Is the potentially harmful activity
necessary?" "What less harmful options are available?" and "How little
damage is possible?"

F. The alternatives assessment is also a public process because the
public bears the ecological and health benefits and consequences of
environmental decisions. A government's course of action is
necessarily enriched by broadly based public participation when a full
range of alternatives is considered based on input from diverse
individuals and groups. The public should be able to suggest
alternatives to be examined. For each alternative, the public should
consider both immediate and long-term benefits and consequences, as
well as possible impacts to the local economy. One of the goals of the
Precautionary Principle is to include residents as equal partners in
decisions affecting their health and environment.

G. Mendocino County looks forward to the time when the County
generates more power from local renewable resources, when building and
planning incorporates greater use of green building techniques, when
more of our waste is recycled, when our rivers and streams adequately
sustain our fisheries, when groundwater is free from contaminants, and
when our foods are cultivated using less intensive methods. The
Precautionary Principle provides guidance to help us attain these
goals as we enact laws and develop policies in such areas as
transportation, construction, land use, water, energy, health,
recreation, community relations, purchasing, agriculture, and

H. Realizing these goals and achieving a society living respectfully
within the bounds of nature will take a behavioral as well as
technological revolution. A precautionary approach to decision-making
will move Mendocino County beyond finding cures for environmental ills
to preventing the ills before they can do harm. The Mendocino County
Precautionary Principle The following shall constitute the Mendocino
County Precautionary Principle Policy. All officers, boards,
commissions, and departments of the County shall apply the
Precautionary Principle in conducting County affairs. In adopting the
Precautionary Principle policy, Mendocino County preserves the
authority to protect the safety and welfare of its residents.

The Precautionary Principle requires a thorough exploration and a
careful analysis of a wide range of alternatives. Based on the best
available science, the Precautionary Principle requires the selection
of the alternative that presents the least potential threat to human
health and the County's natural systems. Public participation and an
open and transparent decision making process are critical to finding
and selecting alternatives. Where threats of serious or irreversible
damage to people or nature exist, lack of full scientific certainty
about cause and effect shall not be viewed as sufficient reason for
the County to postpone cost effective measures to prevent the
degradation of the environment or protect the health of its residents.
Any gaps in scientific data uncovered by the examination of
alternatives will provide a guidepost for future research, but will
not prevent protective action from being taken by the County. As new
scientific data become available, the County will review its decisions
and make adjustments when warranted. Where there are reasonable
grounds for concern, the precautionary approach to decision- making is
meant to help reduce harm by triggering a process to select the least
potential threat. The essential elements of the Precautionary
Principle approach to decision-making include:

1. Anticipatory Action: There is a duty to take anticipatory action to
prevent harm. Government, business, and community groups, as well as
the general public, share this responsibility.

2. Right to Know: The community has a right to know complete and
accurate information on potential human health and environmental
impacts associated with the selection of products, services,
operations or plans. The burden to supply this information lies with
the proponent, not with the general public.

3. Alternatives Assessment: An obligation exists to examine a full
range of alternatives and select the alternative with the least
potential impact on human health and the environment, including the
alternative of doing nothing.

4. Full Cost Accounting: When evaluating potential alternatives, there
is a duty to consider all the reasonably foreseeable short and long-
term costs and benefits to public as well as private sectors of the
community, even if such costs are not reflected in the price. Some of
these costs and benefits may include raw materials, manufacturing,
transportation, use, cleanup, eventual disposal, labor, energy,
health, safety, and job-creation.

5. Participatory Decision-Making Process: Decisions applying the
Precautionary Principle must be transparent, participatory, and
informed by the best available information. The County will make a
reasonable effort to include the public in an appropriate manner when
making decisions that may affect the environment, health, and quality
of life.

Policy Implementation and Three-Year Review

The implementation of this policy will begin with a pilot project
utilizing two (2) County Departments to be selected by the County
Executive Office. Implementation guidelines for the precautionary
principle will be developed during this initial phase that will then
be disseminated to other county departments for use and
implementation. During this phase the participating departments will
report to the CEO on a quarterly basis as to their progress in
developing and use of precautionary principle guidelines. No later
than three years from the adoption of this policy the Executive Office
shall submit a report to the Board of Supervisors on the
implementation and results of the Precautionary Principle Policy.
Thereafter, the Executive Office will conduct and present an annual
report of the County's application of these principles and compliance
with all applicable laws and regulations. The evaluation will be
presented on a date as determined by the Chief Executive Officer.

Policy Limitation

The Board of Supervisors, in accordance with the policy implementation
requirements set forth above, directs all officers, boards,
commissions, and departments of the County to take a precautionary
approach and evaluate alternatives when making decisions that could
impact health and the environment, especially where those actions
could pose threats of serious harm or irreversible damage. This policy
does not impose on its officers and employees, an obligation for
breach of which it is liable in monetary damages to any person who
claims that such breach proximately caused injury nor may this policy
provide any basis for any other judicial relief including, but not
limited to a writ of mandamus or an injunction. In adopting this
policy, the Board of Supervisors does not intend to authorize or
require the disclosure to the public of any proprietary information
protected under the laws of the State of California.