In 2016, the small, far northern city of Weed, California faced a serious and immediate threat to our main source of pure spring drinking water—the water much of the City has historically depended on for all of its existence. Due to our company town legacy and mistakes by state agencies and previous city administrations, the water right was in dispute and claimed by the owner of our local lumber mill, Roseburg Forest Products. Roseburg had already sold some water to Crystal Geyser Roxane’s (CGR’s) existing water bottling facility in Weed. In 2014, the lumber company had started to make serious demands that Weed phase out its use of the springs by mid-2016, when a 50-year, $1 per year lease between Weed and a former owner of the mill was set to expire. Many people in the community believed the City owned the water, and didn’t believe the lease was still valid, but Roseburg claimed it was—and they had the legal muscle to pursue their claim to the water. While Roseburg didn’t publicly admit it, it was widely assumed that this move was so the company could increase its water sales to CGR for export out of our community, including to Japan, where one of CGR’s co-owners is located.
In the middle of an historic drought, Roseburg was insisting that the City of Weed look for alternative water sources, such as drilling wells. There was a huge power imbalance among the parties to the dispute. Roseburg Forest Products was a wealthy and well-resourced corporation with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues every year. In contrast, the small (population 3000) City of Weed was economically disadvantaged and still reeling from a devastating 2014 wildfire which had destroyed 150 houses and many community institutions.
In early 2016, negotiations had broken down and the Weed City Council had declared a “water emergency,” a move which generated some publicity and brought Roseburg back to the negotiating table. That April, Roseburg, using threats that it would soon shut off Weed’s water, convinced the City Council to sign a Water Lease Agreement which required a phase-out of our community’s use of Beaughan Springs, as well as forcing the City to accept Roseburg’s industrial wastewater. The City’s right to use the spring was immediately reduced by 25% (to 1.5 cfs) for which the City had to start paying $97,500 a year (instead of $1 as in the past). Most worryingly, the City would have to completely stop using the Beaughan Springs water by 2025 and take steps to develop other sources of water in the interim.
March 2016, Protest outside Weed City Hall
Roseburg’s move to take away Weed’s water was a huge slap in the face to the community. Many people referred to the company as having “stuck a knife in the back” of the City. This related in large part to the long and complicated history between the mill and the town. From the beginning of the 1900s, when Abner Weed first came to the area and founded the mill and the town, the two institutions have had a long inter-dependent relationship. For many decades and through ownership changes at the mill, Weed had remained a private “company town.” The mill provided jobs and economic vitality to the town, while Weed provided labor and many services to the mill. Weed was only incorporated as a city in 1961 but remained under the influence of the mill, by that time owned by International Paper. At the time of the city’s incorporation, it was basically impossible for city council members, most of whom worked at the mill, to stand up to the company. International Paper closed up in 1982 and Weed lost hundreds of well-paying union jobs. But even after Roseburg bought the mill in 1983, a ‘company town’ mentality prevailed among many citizens. Roseburg’s original founder, Kenneth Ford, had a good reputation with many people, having distinguished himself through charitable giving. Many people just assumed this positive relationship would long continue.
It thus came as a shock, and was viewed as a betrayal of this long trust, when Roseburg announced that it was moving to take over the water right that the City had long understood was its own forever. The company’s new management seemed willing to blow up its long relationship with the town in order to pad its bottom line by selling the water that had long been viewed as a shared resource.
Water for Citizens of Weed California (WCWC) was formed in response to this threat. To the WCWC founders, Roseburg’s actions seemed both ethically wrong and legally problematic. Water is a basic human right. There were clear indications that the previous owners of the mill had intended to gift the water to the City. Taking advantage of a lack of clarity in the historical record, something well-resourced Roseburg was able to do through legal intimidation knowing the City had limited resources to fight back, just seemed wrong and needed to be challenged.
Our WCWC founders included three former mayors of the town, one of whom was still a sitting city council member. Another was a well-respected local business owner, active in the Weed Historic Lumber Museum and voted Weed ‘Citizen of the Year’ on multiple occasions. Several members had worked, or had family members who had worked, at the mill. Most were long time or lifelong Weed citizens. But soon, our organization grew–attracting other long-time community members as well as some newer Weed and area stakeholders. Some came with experiences from elsewhere in engaging in community organizing and in strategies for analyzing and confronting harmful social and environmental threats. WCWC also benefited from the involvement of several people from nearby communities who had engaged in campaigns against water bottling elsewhere in the Mount Shasta area. This combination of deep roots in the community and broader experiences and perspectives from elsewhere turned WCWC into a force with which to be reckoned.
Three-part Strategy of Resistance to Counter Roseburg’s Water Grab
We publicized this issue in an effort to build community support and to try to convince Roseburg to “do the right thing” and cease its attempt to take over the community’s water. The hope was that, if enough publicity and community opposition was generated, this could embarrass and pressure Roseburg (and by extension CG Roxane, which already operated a water bottling facility within City limits and wanted to stay on good terms with the community) to reconsider their scheme to take away the City’s water rights. We also wanted broad community support so that our City Council would take a stronger stand in opposition to the water grab.
WCWC wrote letters to the community; one was a response to a misleading and distorted letter that had been mailed to all city residents by Roseburg’s Chairperson of the Board, Allyn Ford. Members hand delivered the first of these letters to every residence in the city, talking to many people in the process. Later, community updates were emailed or posted on our website and social media. We organized a series of community forums, the first of which took place at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed. WCWC printed up buttons, t-shirts, and a large banner, and had a booth at an annual City festival and other local events. The result was the generation of large amounts of community support and sympathy. Much of our initial community outreach just consisted of one-on-one communications with friends and neighbors in the community. In a clear demonstration of our community support, in November 2016, WCWC founding member Bob Hall was re-elected to the Weed City Council, gaining more votes than any other candidate.
In mid-2016, we initiated an intensive media campaign—contacting investigative reporters, writing opinion pieces, and conducting radio interviews. This campaign first focused on our local newspapers, then expanded to Roseburg’s home towns of Eugene/Springfield and Roseburg, Oregon and to other regional and even national publications. To further our outreach, we also developed a website and a Facebook Group which soon grew and played a key role in publicizing our struggle within the community. A GoFundMe site was established to solicit donations from the community.
At the time of the signing of the Water Lease Agreement (WLA), a new organization sprung up, Weed Area Water Alliance (WAWA). WAWA sued Roseburg and the City of Weed in an attempt to overturn the WLA, arguing that the agreement violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) due to its signing without proper environmental review, particularly in regards to the fact that the agreement called for Weed to accept Roseburg’s industrial sewage from a former Superfund site. The suit also cited other issues in relation to Roseburg’s removing the City’s access to the Beaughan Springs water in violation of historical agreements. WAWA’s action generated uncertainty about the viability of the WLA and helped generate publicity and support for resisting Roseburg’s water grab—it was a sign that the community might not have to just give in to Roseburg’s pressure.
Although in agreement with many of WAWA’s arguments regarding the flaws in the process leading up to the WLA, WCWC members chose to work with and support the City of Weed, not sue it, in the effort to retain the City’s water right. In fact, a couple of WAWA founders joined WCWC and provided valuable and much appreciated support to WCWC’s approaches, especially in the first years of our campaign. WAWA’s legal action continued in parallel to WCWC’s campaign before finally being dropped in May, 2021 following the agreement transferring the Beaughan Springs water right to the City which terminated the WLA.
In the summer of 2016, the founding CEO of CG Roxane, French billionaire Pierre Papillaud, visited the facility in Weed and met with city officials. In a bizarre exchange, upon learning of the growing opposition to the water grab, Papillaud admitted that CG Roxane wanted the additional water in dispute and twice threatened to “bomb” the water bottling plant if he didn’t get his way. This was the first public confirmation from either Roseburg or CG Roxane of what had long been suspected but never formally confirmed—that CG Roxane did intend to buy our community’s water from Roseburg once the City was forced to cease its use. It was also seen as a threat to close the plant if the company didn’t get its way. Other CG Roxane officials later had to do damage control and apologize for their founder’s rude remarks.
Late in the summer of 2016, one of our members reached out to the San Francisco bureau chief of the New York Times, Thomas Fuller. To our surprise, he accepted our invitation and came up to Weed, along with a photographer, for a three-day visit. His article, “Timber company tells California town, go find your own water” ran nationally in the front section of the Sunday New York Times on October 3, 2016, bringing widespread recognition and support for our struggle. The article reported on Papillaud’s threats, causing significant embarrassment for the company. The Times article spurred more media interest, including from two documentary film makers who began working on films about the conflict. It also generated a strong response from Roseburg which issued a damage-control press statement that contained many of the same distortions that had characterized its previous statements.
We began exploring how the City of Weed could be better compensated for the impacts the Crystal Geyser water bottling plant has on our community (truck traffic, noise pollution and, most importantly, the ongoing depletion of our local aquifer). In the wake of the 2014 Boles Fire, the City of Weed was facing severe resource constraints and a reduced tax base. The City needed funds to rebuild its sewer, water delivery, streets and fire-fighting infrastructure.
Yet, because CG Roxane was a wholesale business, the City was not recovering any sales tax from the large amounts of water being extracted and exported. Through a grant from the Story of Stuff project, we were able to gain legal assistance in trying to figure out a legal way to institute a tax on bottled water leaving the city. While this never came to fruition, in large part because of our need to divert attention and resources once we were sued by Roseburg (see below), the very idea of such a tax was believed to be a concern for CG Roxane, and may well have contributed to that company’s role in the final resolution of the water controversy in 2021.
We began to dig into the history of the Weed water rights. This research revealed a strong and compelling case that the water in dispute was rightfully meant for the people of Weed. There was the fact that International Paper had sold 500 homes to the people of Weed with no mention that the water did not come with the homes. This effort was bolstered by the discovery of a long-lost letter, dating from 1982 when International Paper was shutting down the mill, from the Division of Water Rights (DWR) to International Paper. The letter confirmed that it was DWR’s understanding that International Paper had agreed to transfer the Beaughan Springs water right to the City of Weed. Unfortunately, this letter was not available to the City in 1997 when Roseburg first came forward and claimed that the water did not belong to the City. There has never been a clear explanation for why the paper trail ended there—why DWR didn’t follow through and further document the intended change of the water right ownership, and why city officials didn’t follow up at the time. Both parties seem to have simply dropped the ball, creating the lack of clarity Roseburg later exploited.
Having assembled a strong case showing International Paper intended to give the water right to the City well before Roseburg purchased the empty mill and that the disputed water right should in fact belong to the City of Weed, in March 2017, WCWC wrote a complaint to our local watermaster district and State agencies asking for a review and investigation of the situation. This was followed up soon afterwards with a more detailed letter to the Division of Water Rights and State Water Quality Control Board.
WCWC had also been talking to the City Manager and City Council members in an effort to gain their formal support. This occurred in May 2017, when the Weed City Council voted 5-0 to join our efforts in seeking assistance from State agencies in resolving this conflict. This development seemed to stun the Roseburg representatives in the room, who had likely expected the City Council to once again roll over in the face of the company’s pressure.
The “Quiet Title” and “SLAPP” Suits
In response, the very next day Roseburg Forest Products initiated a “Quiet Title” lawsuit against the City of Weed, seeking to confirm the company’s ownership of the disputed water in court. But, surprisingly, the suit also named WCWC and nine individual Weed citizens who they perceived as leaders of the opposition to the company’s water takeover. The names came from the signatories of the WCWC letter to the watermaster. But Roseburg’s petition to the court reserved another 100 “John/Jane Doe” names, implying the company would seek to include in their lawsuit anyone else they could find who was speaking out and opposing their plans.
The naming of WCWC and nine individuals (soon known as the “Weed 9”) was clearly an attempt to silence our opposition through intimidation. For many of the Weed 9 members this was a frightening moment. The process server had delivered a huge stack of papers, weighing over 8 lbs, to each named individual. In doing so, he mentioned he was receiving a hefty fee and that it was likely those named would eventually be forced to pay that fee, as well as all the other legal fees associated with Roseburg’s suit. Many of the named individuals were retired or otherwise on fixed incomes. The specter of needing to find our own lawyer, and possibly also being held liable for Roseburg’s costs in suing us, weighed heavily on many members.
At this low point, a series of fortunate events occurred. When we informed documentarian and journalism student Maya Craig, then in the final stages of editing her Watertown documentary (see below), about having been sued by Roseburg, she mentioned it to Jim Wheaton, her advisor at University of California-Berkeley. Jim Wheaton also happened to be the founding director of The First Amendment Project, a law firm which specializes in defending people from illegal intimidation suits of this kind. In fact, he had even advised on the drafting of California’s anti-SLAPP law, a law that recognizes the unethical use of the courts to intimidate public participation in civic affairs and provides a means for the court to rapidly dismiss such suits as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (hence “SLAPP”). A few days later, Wheaton drove to Weed, met with our group, and agreed to represent us pro bono.
While our group had new confidence that our case would eventually be resolved in our favor, the SLAPP still had a negative effect on our work. We had to pay over $4000 in filing fees to the court just to defend ourselves. This drained our coffers of the funds, donated by people in the community, that we had hoped to use for our campaign. The lawsuit also limited our growth, as people in the community became reluctant to openly support us for fear they could be named in the lawsuit as well. Some community members, who had previously been active in supporting our campaign, dropped out. Despite these challenges, we continued our struggle as best we could.
In December 2017, our case was heard in Superior Court in Yreka, CA. In dismissing us from the lawsuit, Judge Karen Dixon agreed with our attorneys (Jim Wheaton joined by Paul Clifford, also with The First Amendment Project) that the suit against WCWC and the nine individuals was inappropriate and that we should never have been named. It was an inspiring moment for our group, tempered only by the fact that the water rights lawsuit was continuing between Roseburg and the City of Weed, which had filed a counter-claim asserting the City’s ownership over the 2.0 cubic feet per second Beaughan Springs water right. Unfortunately, our excitement over our dismissal from the SLAPP suit was to be short-lived, as Roseburg appealed the decision a few months later and repeatedly challenged the court-ordered reimbursement of our filing and attorney’s fees, thus tying up our funds for an additional 21 months.
SLAPP appealed, WCWC gains national support, takes campaign to Roseburg’s HQ
After waiting several months, Roseburg, through its Churchwell White LLP legal team, appealed Judge Dixon’s ruling dismissing WCWC and the Weed 9 from its lawsuit. Our lawyers and others viewed this as an ill-conceived vindictive intimidation tactic meant to further divert our focus from our campaign. Roseburg’s appeal ended up gaining WCWC much wider national, and even international, sympathy and support. The emerging “Protect the Protest” (PTP) coalition, which included well-known organizations such as Greenpeace, the ACLU and EarthRights International, had come together to expose and campaign against SLAPPs, which were increasingly being used by corporate interests to silence and intimidate community activists and organizations opposing their harmful actions. PTP adopted WCWC and the Weed 9 and began providing us with a wider platform and other support. Two WCWC members, Bob Hall and Jim Taylor, were invited to speak about our struggle on a Greenpeace ship in the Bay Area. PTP featured our press releases and news on their website. The First Amendment Project continued to represent us through the appeal process, joined by Gary Bostwick, an experienced appellate attorney now living in McCloud.
In the fall of 2017, documentary filmmaker Maya Craig had come to Weed for the premiere of her new film Watertown about the Weed water conflict. The film was shown at an historic old theater on Main Street in Weed and attracted a good crowd. While fair-minded, the film cast a sympathetic light on Weed, continuing a trend of favorable press coverage for WCWC, and the Roseburg spokesperson came off poorly. In the words of one of our supporters, “Roseburg kept having to defend the indefensible, it’s no wonder they constantly looked bad.” Soon after Watertown was released, Roseburg began turning away journalist requests for interviews. It was obvious the negative press was starting to get to the company.
Through 2018, the lawsuit between Roseburg and the City of Weed slowly proceeded through the court system, further draining the financial resources of the City. WCWC continued to explore various options to assist the City in the fight. In mid-2018 a retired attorney in Dunsmuir, who had worked with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) told us he didn’t believe the CPUC would have ever allowed the transfer of water management to the Weed Water company in the 1960s if the water right had not also been transferred. Two of our members met with the CPUC in San Francisco to explore this angle. While officials were sympathetic, they claimed they had no jurisdiction at this point and couldn’t provide anything more than a letter of support. No follow-up appears to have occurred between the City’s attorneys and the CPUC.
Finally, we decided to take our campaign to Roseburg’s doorstep. WCWC invited our friends and supporters to come with us up to Springfield, Oregon, the site of Roseburg’s company headquarters. One of the PTP coalition members, the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), was based in nearby Eugene.
CLDC was able to provide needed logistical support and bring out many local people from the environmental and social justice community in and around Eugene. At 10am on December 18th, WCWC members, accompanied by over 200 allies, descended on Roseburg’s headquarters where we held a rally with speakers and music. Protesters circled the building while employees inside watched nervously and drew their shades. A delegation of Weed 9 members asked to meet with Roseburg CEO Grady Mulbery but he refused the request and we were denied entry to the building by the company’s security guards. We delivered our letter, describing our concerns and demands, and returned to the rally. The Eugene-Springfield daily newspaper, the Register-Guard, printed our commentary piece on the day of our rally. The next day, we were front page news. A few days later, the paper also published its own supportive commentary piece calling Roseburg “bullies.” Protect the Protest provided widespread coverage for the protest and the ongoing SLAPP, including publishing this interview with WCWC president Jim Taylor.
Forestry Stewardship Council Complaint
In early 2019, energized by our protest at Roseburg’s headquarters and the widespread support we had gained, yet still lacking any sort of response from the company, we worked to develop new pressure tactics and strategies.
Observing a passing freight train rolling south by Weed, one of our members noticed a load of Roseburg lumber bearing the ‘FSC’ certification label. FSC is the Forestry Stewardship Council, an international institution that certifies forest products as “sustainable.” FSC certified lumber is desirable for many builders and wood products wholesalers, and lumber with the certification can bring a premium price. Coincidentally, this WCWC member had previous experience in bringing a complaint to the FSC against a forest products company in Southeast Asia. Did a company like Roseburg really deserve FSC certification? We decided to look into the matter.
It turns out that human rights, and how a forest products company treats the local communities in which it operates, is supposed to be an important component of FSC certification. In preparing our complaint to the FSC, asking for an investigation of Roseburg’s certification, we gained a whole new set of allies. One was the Environmental Investigation Agency which advised us on filing our own complaint. Interestingly, right as we were preparing our own complaint, a bombshell dropped regarding Roseburg. News reports came out that, as the result of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation, the company was implicated in the illegal black market trade in tropical hardwoods from Africa. This turned into a major black eye for Roseburg. We speculated whether Roseburg’s apparent involvement in this case might bolster our own arguments for an investigation of the company.
We announced the filing of our complaint on February 27, 2019. Our complaint included letters of support from a number of well-known local and national/international organizations, including Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and several others.
Despite this support and what we believed to be a strong case, the FSC quickly declined to investigate our complaint, claiming the issues we were raising were “outside of forestry operations.” Given the historical links between the lumber mill and Weed, we strongly disagreed with this conclusion. It did confirm what others had warned us might be the case–the tendency of the FSC to be pro-industry and the likelihood that the institution would be reluctant to move to investigate one of its favored US clients if it could possibly find a reason to avoid doing so.
The City of Weed Capitulates….But Then Comes Back With a New Strategy
Through much of 2018 and well into 2019, the lawsuit between Roseburg and Weed inched along with briefs filed back and forth and then a long break for what we assumed were confidential settlement negotiations.
WCWC made one final effort at securing assistance from the State. In January, 2019 Gavin Newsom became governor and appointed Xavier Becerra as Attorney General. Becerra had a reputation for fighting for the underdog, which Weed certainly was at this point. We managed to secure a dialogue with a high-level official in the AG’s office. She expressed a strong interest in the case and promised to look into the matter further. However, this effort eventually fizzled out. State officials just didn’t seem to want or be able to intervene when there was an active court case underway—even though we were trying to make the case for Weed being at an unfair disadvantage due to Roseburg’s money and influence.
In August 2019, just a month before the case was finally due to be heard in Superior Court, the City made an announcement—it was conceding the lawsuit and giving up its claim to the water right. With the City of Weed in a dire financial situation, Roseburg’s legal muscle and deep pockets seemed to have finally prevailed.
This outcome had long been feared by WCWC. It seemed wrong that the whole settlement had been negotiated in private with no opportunity for public review or input. But Roseburg had been using every legal trick to keep the City in a long and expensive lawsuit. And it was obvious that if the City had lost in court, the company would appeal and drag the case out much longer. The situation had become untenable for the City’s budget. To WCWC, the City’s decision was understandable, but still regrettable. Now the compelling issues we had uncovered and long fought for would never see their day in court. In our statement on the concession, one of our members commented, “The only thing this proves is that Roseburg had more financial resources to fight this case than did the City of Weed.”
However, soon after conceding the water rights lawsuit, the City launched a new eminent domain legal claim on the 2.0 cfs of Beaughan Springs water. Gaining the water right through eminent domain would still get Weed its water, but it would come at a cost; the City would have to go through a court process to first justify its claim, and then it would have to pay Roseburg whatever the court determined the fair market value of the water to be. While the prospect of eventually securing our community’s water was appealing, winning the eminent domain case and getting our water at a reasonable cost seemed far from certain. Eminent domain itself would be expensive and it seemed likely that Roseburg, given its actions to date, would fight it tooth and nail.
Roseburg Drops its Appeal Against WCWC and the Weed 9
In the fall of 2019, following the City’s concession, Churchwell White, acting on behalf of Roseburg, approached our legal team and began a discussion about dropping their appeal of the dismissal of WCWC and the Weed 9 from the now-settled lawsuit with the City. Churchwell White had delayed the appeal as long as possible, for almost two years, requesting extension after extension, so that they could keep us tied up in court while not actually having to do the work of writing up a rationale for their appeal. Now they were ready to concede. Roseburg agreed to pay all of our court costs and to reimburse our legal team for their fees.
While our allies in the Protect the Protest coalition portrayed this as a “victory for free speech” and a successful defense of a SLAPP, which it was, the victory was still bittersweet for WCWC and the Weed 9. We had been released from an unjust intimidation lawsuit. But our community still faced a long and potentially expensive struggle to acquire the water which we believed, by all rights, already belonged to our community. “We shouldn’t have to pay for something we already own” was a common refrain.
WCWC turns its focus to CG Roxane
With limited options available to engage in the eminent domain proceedings between the City and Roseburg, WCWC turned our attention to CG Roxane. In late 2019, the company had made a strange request to the City Planning Commission—for a tree removal permit for a leach field the company planned on developing. The previous year, a neighboring property owner had discovered that CG Roxane was illegally letting wastewater run off its property onto the neighbor’s, and right into Black Butte Creek, a Boles Creek/Shasta River tributary. CG Roxane had been forced to immediately stop the practice and start using the City of Weed sewer system, for which it was being charged a hefty monthly fee. A leach field, on property adjoining the plant it already owned, apparently seemed like a cheaper long-term solution.
WCWC members began looking into the situation. We found that the company had failed to obtain legally required permits for a leach field from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB). Worse, we also discovered that the proposed leach field was only 250 feet from the Mazzei Well, the City’s second most important source of residential drinking water after Beaughan Springs. Yet no study had been done of the potential impacts. In its presentation to the Planning Commission, CG Roxane had described the wastewater as “clean” and no mention of the proximity to the Mazzei Well was noted. However, a Public Records Act request WCWC initiated revealed that, in reality, a number of toxic chemicals harmful to people and fish were in the company’s wastewater. As one member described the situation, “No farmer would ever locate his septic tank right on top of his drinking water well. Why should we let CG Roxane dump its toxic wastewater right next to one of our most important sources of water?”
In March 2020, we went public—publishing a commentary piece blasting the company for the poor process it was using and sharing the information widely in our community. We brought up the issue to our City Council. In August, we submitted comments to the NCRWQCB opposing the leach field and asking for any permit to be denied.
Our investigation and advocacy came at a vulnerable time for CG Roxane. In the last year it had been implicated in, not just one, but two major scandals revealing serious ethical lapses. In Washington State, the company had engaged in dirty and deceitful practices in trying to win approval for a new water bottling facility. And at its only other existing water bottling facility in California, in Olancha, the company had been convicted of the illegal disposal of toxic (arsenic) waste. Taken together, this was turning into a public relations disaster for the company. And in Weed, where the company’s reputation had taken hits ever since the founder’s comments about bombing the plant back in 2016, these new developments had the potential to start having serious repercussions. The City had already denied CG Roxane’s request to drill a new well so that it could take out more groundwater for bottling. This need to rebuild its reputation is at the root of what happened next.
A couple years earlier, WCWC members had contacted environmental advocacy groups in Japan to see if we could launch a market-based campaign regarding the Weed water grab. One WCWC member had even been interviewed in the Japanese press during a visit to Tokyo. However, the initiative had stalled out given all the other events, including the SLAPP suit and now the pandemic. At a time when the company was vulnerable, this seemed like it might be a good time to revive this initiative.
A Deal is Reached, Saving Weed’s Water
But then things started to take a different turn. In September, soon after WCWC had filed its comments with the NCRWQCB, sources in the City and at the Water Board informed us that CG Roxane had dropped their leach field proposal. There were also reports suggesting CG Roxane had indicated they “are considering doing more for the Weed community.” It turns out they were. Over the next few months, CG Roxane engaged in confidential negotiations with the City leadership. While the details weren’t provided, it became clear that some big news was in the works. CG Roxane and the City first announced that the company had agreed to start providing a number of scholarships to students at the Weed High School and the College of the Siskiyous. Coming from a company not previously known for its charitable giving, other than donating bottled water for community events, this was a pleasant surprise to many community members.
Following several frustrating months of waiting, and with many rumors circulating, it was finally announced–CG Roxane, Roseburg and the City had reached a deal which would restore the City’s water rights to the long disputed full 2.0 cfs of Beaughan Springs water in perpetuity! CG Roxane was buying the water right from Roseburg for $2.2 million and turning around and selling it to the City. But the price to the City was to be $1.2 million with very favorable financing terms ($100,000 per year for 12 years with no interest) and include a $1 million charitable donation receipt. Compared to the uncertainty and legal costs the City would have faced had it continued to pursue eminent domain, this was a reasonable deal. The City Council ratified the agreement on March 11, 2021. WCWC members spoke in favor of the deal, thanked the City leadership and issued a public statement of support. A few days later we published a commentary piece in the Weed Press. The New York Times, following up on its 2016 article that was so influential, covered the settlement as well.
The deal wasn’t the perfect knock-out punch we had originally hoped would be delivered to Roseburg through the court system. And it was hard to see Roseburg walk away with $2.2 million from CG Roxane for a water right we never believed they owned. But, in reality, the company had probably had to spend at least that much on all its legal costs (including covering WCWC’s legal costs) and for its failed public relations strategy. In the end, the company suffered a serious blow to its reputation, not only in Weed but in its home state of Oregon and elsewhere. It likely wasn’t worth it, although we doubt anyone in the company will ever publicly admit that. In retrospect, Roseburg seems to have seriously miscalculated the degree to which its water grab would generate wide and sustained community opposition. Weed did not have a previous tradition of community activism and we believe the company underestimated us. From our perspective, Roseburg Forest Products didn’t come out looking like a winner.
WCWC and community members have varying views about CG Roxane’s role. Some see it all as a cynical ploy to restore its reputation so the company can avoid further scrutiny of its questionable practices. Others, including many in City leadership, are very appreciative of the company finally stepping up and doing the right thing. Almost everyone seems to acknowledge that the company’s move would have been very unlikely without the sustained community pressure generated by WCWC and our community of supporters over the last five years.
The Next Chapter: Slapping Back
Following the successful resolution of the struggle over the rights to the City of Weed’s drinking water from Beaughan Springs, we turned our attention to a new phase in our campaign. As discussed above, WCWC and the Weed 9 had been sued in an intimidation tactic called a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). After Roseburg Forest Products and their lawyers finally dropped their appeal of the December 2017 ruling dismissing their SLAPP lawsuit, WCWC and the Weed 9 decided to fight back. While California has anti-SLAPP legislation, perpetrators of these intimidation lawsuits are seldom held accountable for their unethical actions. The agreement under which the appeal was dropped prevented us from pursuing any further claims against the company. However, this was not the case with Roseburg’s lawyers.
With the support of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and the Protect the Protest Coalition, we launched a “SLAPP-back” lawsuit against the lawyers who had sued us—Sacramento-based Churchwell White LLP (since renamed White Brenner LLP) and two of the individual attorneys who had pursued the SLAPP suit on behalf of their clients—Barbara Brenner and Robin Baral. This lawsuit is now at the appellate level, with motions and briefings being filed by both sides. Given the slowness of the legal system, particularly with the ongoing pandemic, it will likely be 2023 before the case is presented to a jury. Through this process, we have the continued support of the Protect the Protest coalition, which views our case as an important move to hold lawyers accountable for performing unethical acts on behalf of their corporate clients.