Save Little Lake Valley

Stop the Caltrans Willits Bypass!

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We are stunned by the collapse of a section of the Willits Bypass viaduct, and we join with everyone in the community in sending prayers to the injured workers.

We are very concerned that a full, independent investigation needs to take place to determine what caused this collapse and to assure the safety of the construction of the entire project. So far, there is little information, and it appears the only investigation is being done by OSHA and by Caltrans itself. While OSHA addresses worker safety, we believe it is equally important to have independent analysis of the structural integrity of the rest of the viaduct, to assess the ability of the piers to withstand flooding, viscous soil, and earthquakes and to test the strength of the reinforcing steel used. These questions require clear answers before construction continues.

In addition to the shocking failure of the section of viaduct, the slopes at the southern interchange of this project have been unstable, with several substantial slides this winter causing partial closures of the current highway. This, too, needs to be analyzed to avoid safety risks to both workers and motorists.

And at the northern interchange, only a fraction of the 900,000 cubic yards of fill ultimately planned for this massive interchange have yet been brought in, and none of the proposed five bridges have yet been built. Could unstable subsoil conditions and/or sliding fill material cause future safety issues here as well? The whole valley is hundreds of feet deep of alluvial deposits, with no bedrock or solid footing for all this construction.

Moreover, at the northern interchange, Caltrans is planning numerous 3’ diameter culverts to channel creeks and runoff under the wide swath of the interchange (over 200’ wide in some places). If these culverts become clogged or fail, there could be major flooding problems.

Last but certainly not least, scores of Native American artifacts have been discovered (an entire ancient village and other sites have been destroyed; required protocols have not been followed) in the northern interchange area as well as in the proposed wetland mitigation areas. Further precautions are required, and this may constrain the already expensive, speculative, and potentially destructive mitigation plans.

We recognize that there is a huge investment in seeing this Bypass project completed. Yet it is already – even before the viaduct collapse – far over budget and behind schedule. Caltrans and the contractor cannot be allowed to simply bull-doze ahead, with reckless disregard for safety, cost, cultural sites, and ecosystems.

There is still an opportunity to reduce some of the damage, cost overruns, delays, and risks, by eliminating the unnecessary 4-lane freeway interchange at the northern terminus of the project. Since Phase 1 is only 2 lanes – and Phase 2 seems extremely unlikely in the foreseeable future if ever – a simple 2-lane intersection or roundabout could eliminate the need for an estimated 700,000 cubic yards of fill, four bridges, and many tons of concrete, not to mention concomitant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This design change could also enable restoring about 24 acres of wetlands on the site (instead of speculative “creation” wetlands elsewhere) and avoid further destruction of Native American cultural resources.  

Caltrans must be held accountable. There must be an independent investigation. And Caltrans must be compelled to implement measures to reduce the impacts and cost over-runs by eliminating the northern interchange. We look forward to your leadership and cooperation in this matter.

Protesters demonstrating at Caltrans’ main office on Thursday, October 15th eventually succeeded in meeting with North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (WB) staff, who were in Willits to conduct an end-of-season inspection of the Willits bypass mitigation lands, to express concerns about the giant project’s Mitigation and Monitoring Plan (MMP).

Caltrans initially refused to allow the demonstrators access, but just as the demonstration ended, Water Board staff members, including Executive Officer Matthew St. John, were spotted walking towards the Caltrans building. The crowd of about twenty hailed the three men as they disappeared into the building. After some time and persuasion, CHP Officer Nellis conveyed the group’s request to meet before leaving on the tour, to which they acceded.

The impromptu half-hour meeting was held under a shade tree outside the Caltrans office. Activists conveyed their concerns about the both the biological and cultural impacts of the Bypass MMP, including the abysmal treatment of cultural sites, the potential for flooding, erosion and sedimentation from disturbed soil on creek banks and scraped wetlands, lack of planting, overgrazing and monitoring records.

Another serious concern was the possibility of toxics remaining in the soil at a “wetland creation” site along highway 101 north of Willits where a wood waste dump has been excavated leaving a very deep pit. The soil has been trucked out of county to a Class III disposal site, presumably for hazardous materials. SOLLV is calling for further testing before backfilling is approved. The site is the subject of a previous Water Quality violation.

Water Board E.O. St. John offered to meet with those concerned at the agency’s offices in Santa Rosa but the group insisted an on-site tour with the knowledgeable citizens and press access must take place first in the interests of transparency and accountability. At the end of the day, Caltrans’ Phil Frisbee agreed to provide a tour for one member of the media and is expected to confirm requests from other participants.

Save Our Little Lake Valley will participate in a prayer ceremony led by American Indian allies in front of the Mendocino County Courthouse in Ukiah this Monday, September 8th at 9 a.m. We will have a rally

Carpool from Willits:
– Meet at Evergreen Shopping Center at 8:15 to attend the ceremony.
– Meet at Evergreen Shopping Center at 9:15 to attend the hearing.

We will have a rally and press conference at 11 a.m., or whenever the hearing is over.

Please dress appropriately and behave respectfully in court. Note: Shorts, sandals and hats are NOT allowed in the courtrooms.

Background Information:

On August 20th, Justice Cindee Mayfield issued a TRO [temporary restraining order] against Mendocino County and Mendocino Forest Products blocking soil excavation pending a subsequent hearing on September 8th. At this hearing, Justice Mayfield will rule on whether to grant a Preliminary Injunction for the Willits Bypass. The hearing is at 10 a.m. in Courtroom “F.” The judge is ruling on whether to maintain the status quo until the full trial, which is likely to occur in Dec. 2014.

In other words, if Mayfield turns down the injunction, then CalTrans and its contractors can proceed immediately with filling the wetlands.  If she grants the injunction, the filling cannot proceed until the kick-off of the spring 2015 construction season, if ever — depending on the ruling in the trial.

The halt to work on the Northern Interchange for the season would allow time for a real, significantly downsized plan to be developed and adopted.

Even if Mayfield does not grant the PI, or the decision is delayed, we still need to support the tremendous effort that has gone into this last-ditch attempt to let reason and the law prevail to protect Mother Earth. Let’s let our presence in the courtroom show Judge Mayfield how much we care about our wetlands and ancestral places. Please dress respectfully.

Wetlands Besieged,
Pomo Village to Be Covered
Please come to the Friday SOLLV Coalition meeting at 5pm at the Tipi on John Wagenet’s land across from the wetlands now being covered with fill.
Let’s join with the Tribal members of our Coalition by taking a stand to protect the cultural sites and artifacts now being discovered by bulldozer almost daily in the so-called mitigation lands. Turns out, protecting wetlands and sacred sites goes hand in hand.
This is a crucial meeting to decide on our response and next steps to take in the face of Caltrans’ current onslaught on the wetlands and the many ancestral Pomo cultural sites.
            Tipi is located on John Wagenet’s property on north HWY 101 [across from gate 5 about a mile north of the High School]
            Date: Friday, 9/12/14
            Time: 5pm
Bring something to sit on if you need such an item
Water is a good idea
Bring some snacks if you want [to share or not]

[Today, roughly 30 people blockaded dump trucks at both entrance gates to the Willits Bypass northern interchange construction zone, halting nearly all soil dumping for the day.  At roughly 11 a.m., the dump trucks went home for the day. The California Highway Patrol took a light approach to policing the demonstration, making no arrests.  We are gathering again tomorrow at 7 a.m. at The Tipi! Only serious rain will prevent us from gathering. Check out the KMUD News report filed by Annie Esposito, which begins at 6:00 into the broadcast.]

Native American Tribal members, including direct descendants of the Pomo peoples who once populated the Little Lake Valley where Caltrans is currently building an oversized freeway Bypass, will join environmental groups in a mass protest on the north end of the project today. Protestors will enter the construction zone north of town in the early morning hours, slowing and stopping the fast and furious flow of dirt-filled, double-belly dump trucks working from dawn to dusk to cover the wetlands and archeological sites the activists seek to protect.
Elders and spiritual leaders from local Pomo Indian Bands and the American Indian Movement (AIM) will lead the way to threatened cultural sites where prayers will be offered for the ancestors. The AIM flag and drum will be present near the construction area where Native American cultural artifacts have been discovered. The sites have been documented and fenced off by Caltrans, but are still slated to be destroyed by being permanently graded and buried under the Bypass as currently designed.

“I hear and feel our ancestors cry to save our villages from destruction. The white man’s history repeats itself. We pray that the Creator will hear our prayers”, said Priscilla Hunter, tribal representative for the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians. “Caltrans placated the interests of local ranchers by giving them permanent grazing rights on the mitigation lands and built the viaduct over the railroad track to preserve it, but yet they don’t listen to the Indians’ concerns for protection of our ancestors’ culture or to our call for downsizing the northern interchange to avoid a large village site.”

The Coyote Valley Tribe requested government to government consultations with the Army Corps of Engineers in June, but to date has received no response. Hunter stated that Caltrans was likely in violation of the Clean Water Act 404 Permit General Condition # 3 which specifically references the protection of archeological sites and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. At this time, Caltrans has refused to provide any further information about the recent cultural findings to Hunter.

The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and their Resolution for Government to Government consultation can be found here.

Over thirty additional sites and more than one hundred artifacts have been identified since Bypass construction in the valley began. One site is thought to be the ancient village site of Yami. After initially assuring the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo that construction on this large, known site would be avoided, Caltrans destroyed the village completely in the summer of 2013. Equipment operators did not stop work and did not notify the Tribes, as required. Caltrans admitted the destruction months later, calling it “accidental” and blaming faulty maps. Artifacts in Little Lake Valley are so plentiful it has been described by archeologists as an Archeological District.

Some of the cultural sites being “discovered by bulldozer” are on the so-called mitigation lands, acres Caltrans is relying upon to compensate for environmental damage to public values, called “temporal loss”. When cultural sites are identified, the area is set aside, reducing the acreage available for mitigations. Caltrans needs every acre of scarce mitigation land to make up for the temporal losses already incurred by its chronic failure to perform mitigation measures now two years overdue.

Bypass opponents have proposed a smaller, lower impact design to reduce the amount of mitigation lands needed to satisfy requirements that would also save time money as well as some 30 acres of wetlands while avoiding cultural sites. Caltrans had committed to finding ways to reduce the amount of fill used on the northern interchange as one of the conditions of reinstating its previously suspended 404 Operating Permit under lead agency Army Corps of Engineers. Caltrans has proposed only a minimal 3.5 acre reduction carved from minor design adjustments, without evaluating other, less destructive options.

The Coalition to Save Little Lake Valley and others including Save Our Little Lake Valley, Earth First!, the Willits Environmental Center and Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters are demanding an immediate halt to all fill activities on the northern interchange pending a significant reduction of impacts to protect both wetlands and cultural sites.

Despite impending rain, activists returned today for a second day of protest against the bitterly contested Caltrans’ Bypass, after shutting down fill operations on the northern interchange all day yesterday. On Tuesday, two groups of activists held long cloth banners with the messages: ”Caltrans Kills Wetlands” and “Caltrans: Paving the Road to Extinction” stretched across the entrance to two haul roads off highway 101, blocking ingress and egress from the construction zone.

A third group, including Priscilla Hunter, Tribal Representative for the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and other Native Americans of lineal descent to the area’s Pomo ancestors, succeeded in reaching the ancestral cultural site they want to protect, remaining there for some time with the American Indian Movement (AIM) flag, to drum and pray. The activists then blocked a third stream of dirt-filled trucks, effectively stopping work.

Protesters’ numbers have increased lately due to the participation of Native American Pomo Tribes, including those from Coyote Valley, Sherwood Rancheria, Potter and Redwood Valley, all of whom were represented at the protest.

There were no arrests on Tuesday. CHP officers were present in one squad car and one van, but did not tell protesters they were trespassing and did not ask them to leave, as erroneously stated by Caltrans Public Relations official, Phil Frisbee in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Tues. Sept. 23.

 “We came back again today to insist on our demand for a less destructive, less expensive design for the northern interchange to protect cultural sites and wetlands”, said Naomi Wagner of Redwood Nation Earth First!

After all this time, CalTrans still insists on seeking criminal restitution fees from Will Parrish for his occupation of the “wick drain stitcher” in Little Lake Valley, which occurred in the early summer of 2013! After countless delays, the restitution hearing is scheduled for Friday, October 10th at 9:30 a.m. at Mendocino County Courtroom “B” in Ukiah.

CalTrans seeks $154,733 in restitution fees from Will, down from their original claim of $490,002. This is in spite of the fact that Will already settled the criminal charges related to his non-violent action in Jan. 2014, with the Mendocino County DA agreeing to two misdemeanors, which become infractions on Will’s record in Jan. 2016, and 100 hours of community service (which Will has already completed).

Your presence at the hearing helps make a powerful statement. This case provides a measuring stick for the validity of CalTrans’ utterly absurd claims that protesters caused $12 million in taxpayer burden by delaying the project in 2013.  Let’s stand behind someone who has stood up for all of us! Let’s put CalTrans’ greed on trial!

– Live in Willits? Carpool by meeting at Bountiful Gardens in Evergreen Shopping Plaza at 8:30
– Restitution Hearing at 9:30
– Rally at noon on the courthouse steps

Click on the Continue Reading link for an overview and updates on Will’s case.

Recent Developments

The Mendocino County District Attorney and Will (with help from attorney Omar Figueroa) settled the criminal charges connected to his case this past January.  Click the link to learn more of the details.

The settlement left the issue of criminal restitution fees partially unresolved.  At the time, CalTrans was seeking $481,155 as compensation for the project delays they said Will’s action had caused (CalTrans has submitted three different restitution claims to the DA’s office regarding the Parrish case).  While a member of the DA’s Office acknowledged this figure to be “inflated,” the official position is they do not have the Constitutional authority to limit the amount of restitution CalTrans can pursue.  Only a judge, they say, can set limits on the restitution request.

The DA’s office subsequently announced that CalTrans would have to prosecute the restitution claim themselves, and that the DA would no longer be involved.

CalTrans, however, has thus far refused to send their lawyers — who would have to come from Sacramento — to handle the case.   And the DA’s office has not responded to the Parrish camp’s efforts to mediate the case, even though Mendocino County Superior Court Judge John Behnke has requested in two of the case’s various open court sessions that such mediation occur.

As a result, the case has been in a stalemate, which has dragged on for several months.  How the various messy aspects of the relationship between the DA and CalTrans will be resolved is anyone’s guess. It appears, though, that the hearing on criminal restitution will, in fact, finally take place.  The stage is set for October 10th at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom “B.”

Overview of Will Parrish’s Case

Will Parrish is a journalist and activist who lives in Ukiah.  Last year (2013), from June 20 to July 1, Will occupied a “wick drain stitcher” that CalTrans contractor DeSilva Gates Corp. was using to install 80-foot-long vertical tubes into the wetlands of Little Lake Valley, as part of a process called “wick draining,” which drains water from the earth to accelerate soil compaction and thereby stabilize the ground for infrastructure.

Will’s action generated a great deal of attention, particularly after he was able to remain on the stitcher, without food, in the midst of an unseasonal rain for several days.  CalTrans installed perhaps one-quarter as many wick drains as planned during the 11.5-day period will was on the stitcher. Ultimately, the wick drains were fully installed, but direct actions such as Will’s have generated important political consequences.  They have turned the Willits Bypass a widely-acknowledged symbol of waste and misguided planning, for which California’s state transportation agency is becoming increasingly known (with concomitant efforts to create reform), also keeping alive the possibility that the Bypass will be downsized to a somewhat more reasonable size.

All other Bypass protester cases have been resolved.  The last case, against tree sitter Mark Herbert, was thrown out entirely by Judge Ann Moorman on May 29, 2014.

Our friends at Friends of Del Note, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) are challenging CalTrans’ $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project” in the majestic Smith River Canyon of far northern California. Here is their press release. For related information, see: “How Caltrans Gets Away With It

CRESCENT CITY, Calif.— Conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) highway-widening project that threatens endangered salmon runs, ancient redwoods and public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in California’s remote Del Norte County. Caltrans approved a project to widen narrow sections of Highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks without adequate review of the impacts. The groups had filed suit in state court in May for inadequate environmental review under state laws.

“Caltrans would have us believe allowing oversize trucks to drive faster through the tight Smith River canyon will make this scenic highway safer, yet it will do the opposite,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “We are challenging this project to protect motorist safety and defend our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) are challenging the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” It would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, increasing the likelihood of deadly accidents and toxic spills, especially during dangerous winter conditions. The project would harm old-growth trees and habitat for protected salmon runs, as well as harm tourism and local residents.

Oberg’s Drawings Part of “Emerging Artists of Mendocino County” Exhibit

Throughout this year, Ukiah native and resident Adrianna Oberg has crafted a number of posters that brilliantly convey the spirit, messages, and tactics of the resistance to the CalTrans Willits Bypass.  Some of Adrianna’s most recent work — including her “Rise to Action” poster above, shirts that bear messages like “Life is Priceless” and “We Made The Machine; The Machine Didn’t Make Us!” and a t-shirt supporting the California prisoners’ hunger strike earlier this year — are now on display at the Mendocino College Art Gallery.

Mendocino College instructor Alyssum Wier, who teaches courses in art gallery management and art & craft marketing, says that Oberg’s work. “caught [her] eye during the Save Little Lake Valley protests earlier this year.”

“Her work is extremely powerful and visually compelling in addition to being well-executed,” Wier says. “Oberg has a style that is both uniquely hers as well as very much reflective of Mendocino County’s counter-culture history. It literally grabs one’s attention which, as political protest work, is obviously extremely effective.”

Weir continues, “It is not included in this exhibit by virtue of its protest content and its inclusion in this exhibit is certainly not an endorsement of either side of the bypass debate nor prisons nor any other issue or cause. The gallery context has the power to shift how we read and relate to visual culture and, if anything, that is what I want viewers to be aware of and take away. In putting Oberg’s original protest drawings on the wall of the gallery, I intended to call attention to them as art.

“Even though her canvas and surfaces are not precious (copy paper, scraps of cotton, old t-shirts) they hold their own in the gallery setting. That creative use of material was another reason for her inclusion. A number of other artists in the exhibit also mix media in ways that are innovative such as Rose Easterbrook’s photo painting collages or Genine Coleman’s bone pigment on buckskin redwood.”

Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 12:30 to 3:30 and by appointment.  The exhibit runs through October 12, 2013.  See the gallery web site for more information.

Adrianna Oberg is currently accepting commissions for drawings.  You can contact her at magic.medicine [+atsymbol+] gmail dot com.