SFGate – Opponents of genetically modified crops won big in Sonoma County Tuesday night when voters approved a ban on GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, by a margin of nearly 12 percentage points.
The future and sustainability of Sonoma County agriculture was also an oft-raised issue in the contest between organic farmer Linda Hopkins and former state Sen. Noreen Evans for the District Five Board of Supervisors seat.
Hopkins, who had the financial support of many in the farming and wine industries, won with 54.1 percent of the vote, a margin of about 2,500 votes.
She will be the first woman to represent the Fifth District on the Board of Supervisors, and she’ll have company — the board will be majority-female for the first time in history.
“It’s been a bittersweet evening,” Hopkins said in an online statement, describing the combination of her victory and that of President-elect Donald Trump.
She will assume the seat formerly held by Efren Carrillo, who gained notoriety when he drunkenly showed up at his neighbor’s Santa Rosa home in 2013 clad only in underwear and socks. The neighbor has since sued him for $2.5 million.
Sonoma County is the sixth California county to ban GMOs, joining Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Marin.
Because Sonoma County connects Marin County to Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity, the ban’s passage creates a 13,734-square-mile zone where genetically engineered plants cannot be grown, the largest such area in the United States.
“What’s exciting is, we have a northwest coast GMO-free growing zone that’s growing, and Sonoma County is the missing link,” ban proponent Karen Hudson said last week.
It’s a major victory for a movement that has seen mixed results in local efforts to ban GMO crops in other states. Several counties in Hawaii have passed GMO bans only to see them overturned by federal judges, and a 2014 ban in Josephine County, Ore., was later found to be invalid because it conflicted with state law. A ban in Jackson County, Ore., remains in force because Jackson was exempted from the aforementioned state law.
According to Hudson, farmers who are now growing GMOs will be able to continue growing for the current season as a grace period before the ban kicks in. If a farmer has already purchased seed for the following year, he or she will be allowed to plant that year as well.
Tuesday night did not bring victory for every measure. In Healdsburg, Measure T, a ballot measure to eliminate water fluoridation, secured only 41 percent of the vote, losing by a 775-vote margin.
It was the second time in two years that Healdsburg voters had rejected a fluoride ban. In 2014, 64 percent answered yes to the question of whether Healdsburg should continue to fluoridate its water. Both measures were, in large part, the work of a Rohnert Park resident and dedicated antifluoride activist, Dawna Gallagher-Stroeh, and in both cases, local dentists vigorously advocated for fluoridation.
The water in Healdsburg is fluoridated, but that’s not the case in the rest of Sonoma County.
In the weeks leading up to the election, asked what she’d do if the measure failed, Gallagher Stroeh replied, “I just don’t know. It’s hard to answer that. Because I really think that we’re going to win this time.”