Highway 101 through Richardson Grove

Highway 101 through Richardson Grove

First the good news:

 

I.  Ancient Richardson Grove Redwoods are Safe for the Forseeable Future!

 

Caltrans has WITHDRAWN its Environmental Assessment and approvals for this ill-conceived, potentially devastating highway expansion project in the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park, keeping the precious grandmother trees safe from jack-hammer shovels (for now, and we hope forever).  Accompanying this action, the hard-fighting legal eagles waging this battle in court have withdrawn their lawsuits that have kept this project at bay until this victory.

This action does not preclude Caltrans from re-proposing the project, but they would have to start over from scratch, somehow making sense of the arguments that couldn’t pass muster through several federal and state court hearings.  Since their attempts to push this project forward were based on false information, uncounted trees, absurd claims that endangered and threatened species would not be affected and that jack-hammering roots of 2,000 year old redwoods would not hurt the trees, it would seem a fool’s mission.  I believe it was David Brower who once said, “All our victories are temporary and our defeats final…” so we do need to be ever-vigilant, but this is a major victory. Huge thanks go to the grassroots activists and dedicated attorneys who have worked  for years to prevent this disaster from happening.
You can read EPIC’s and CBD’s press release at

https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/12/05/18765103.php

Long live the mighty redwoods!

Raging Grannies sing in front of the puppet at the ACE bldg in S.F.

Raging Grannies sing with the puppet at the ACE bldg in S.F.

II.  Report Back on our Nov. 18 Demo and Rally at the Army Corps of Engineers in S.F. Opposing the Willits Bypass

In short, our Nov. 18 event was a big success, in terms of pushing the envelope with the Army Corps, making the Bypass issue more visible in the Bay Area, and great collaboration between Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters and Earth First! in the Bay Area and the north coast grassroots groups and activists, and the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians. Close to 100 people showed up, with two 12-person vans and a couple private cars bringing people from Mendocino County, along with many people from the Bay Area.  If you came out, THANK YOU!

We were at the Army Corps offices on Market St. for nearly 4 hours with signs, a beautiful giant puppet, drums, prayers, speeches, chants and songs by the AIM drummers and the Mendo Raging Grannies!

Representatives of the American Indian Movement and the Ohlone Shellmound organizing group participated, as well as Native Pomo people from Coyote Valley in Mendocino County. Our ask of the Army Corps of Engineers was to grant a meeting with the Tribal representatives who had gone through extensive channels including formal Tribal resolutions and letters to arrange a  consultation (legally-required) related to the destruction of Native archaeological sites at the Caltrans Willits Bypass construction site, and to hold Caltrans accountable for their bad practices.

Given the formal letter of Nov. 6, an email communication of a few days prior to the demo, and a letter that Tribal rep Priscilla Hunter got hand-delivered to the Army Corps 16th floor offices upon our arrival, it was hardly a surprise visit. But the Army Corps’ excuse that the “right people [to meet] were not in the office” ignored those frequent and recent communications.

We were there for three and one half hours before this meeting was finally granted.  It took the crowd (still large over 3 hours into the demo!) moving over onto the “private property” part of the sidewalk, and ultimately, several people sitting down in front of the front door and not budging.  About 8-10 cops were milling around, suggesting they would either arrest or cite the people sitting in front of the door. The building security had signed a paper asking for a Citizens’ Arrest. We stood and sat that ground for a while, chanting and telling the building security  how simple resolution would be—just allow 3 designated people access to meet with ACE staff.  After saying “No, No, No, not the right people here, can’t do it, No…” about 75 times, Army Corps staff finally said “Well, maybe…” Perseverance wins out.

Designated Tribal representative Priscilla Hunter and her daughter Melinda Hunter, who is a Tribal Council member were allowed in and had a meeting that lasted about 30 minutes. While the Army Corps tries to deflect their responsibility to Caltrans via the federal Highway Administration (FHWA), it is a circle that goes nowhere–certainly not to accountability.  Caltrans, in a meeting last June, said they wanted a confidentiality agreement whereby the Tribes would not talk to the media about the archaeological issues, and wanted the tribes to be identified as “signatories” rather than a sovereign entity, and said that if the Tribes don’t sign onto Caltrans’ terms, “the bus keeps rolling.”

Many other details were discussed, and the Army Corps agreed to set up a meeting with FHWA, and Jane Hicks, in the regulatory division, said that the Coyote Valley people and ACE could have a meeting in the meantime, and that they would receive agenda items from Priscilla and Melinda.

Media Coverage:
KPFA Flashpoints (11/17); KMUD, KPFA, KZYX, and ABC Ch. 7.  (on 11/18 and 11/19) KPFA News (11/23) The Oakland Post was there, and there is an excellent, detailed story in Indian Country Today that ran shortly prior to the 18th.

Photos: You can view photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/129560691@N07/sets/72157647087092304/

III. And now… Caltrans wants $64.7 million more

That’s $64.7 more of our money, just to be clear.  After missed deadlines, false promises, outright lies, permit violations and cost overruns, they are back at the trough, saying they need this large chunk of additional public funds to finish their over-built boondoggle. This was entirely predictable, as is their ignoring of the most elegant and simple solution to cut costs: downsize the project so that the northern interchange is not being built for four lanes, but rather for the two lanes that are actually under construction.  It is elegant because it spares significant wetlands and Native cultural sites as well as saving big bucks.

Breaking news: After much public input in opposition, the California Transportation Commission, who approves all funding for highway projects met on Tuesday, Dec. 9 and approved the funds shortly thereafter.

See a great, incisive ABC news story at http://abc7news.com/traffic/major-cost-overruns-on-caltrans-controversial-willits-bypass/424755/

 

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