The compelling nature of the struggle to secure our community's water has attracted a growing amount of local, regional, national and even international media coverage.
SLAPPed for protecting his community’s water source
Jim Taylor, is the President of Water for Citizens of Weed, CA (WCWC). For over 100 years, Weed residents have relied on a nearby Mount Shasta spring as their main source of drinking water. Roseburg Forest Products wants to sell it to the international bottled water industry. To add insult to injury, the company SLAPPed a number of residents fighting for their water rights to silence community opposition. The judge found the citizens of Weed not responsible, and dismissed the case dismissed the case in 2017. Roseburg appealed the decision. In December 2019, in a victory for free speech, Roseburg agreed to drop its bullying lawsuit against WCWC and nine members of the Weed community.
Answers edited for length and clarity. Jim spoke with Virginia Cleaveland from Stand.earth and former PTP member.
Why did you decide to get involved and speak out against this issue?
I learned that if something was not done, the city of Weed, CA would lose its water. After doing what little research I could do on my own, I felt there was enough proof that the water rights were actually intended to be given to the city. I felt that some of the “powers that be” at city hall were trying to take the easy way out, and I felt it was getting shoved down our throats that “This was the way it was going to go.” I felt that if somebody didn’t speak up, the city manager was going to get his way. So we formed a group, called the Weed 9, and we held steadfast through the whole thing. This was really just an example of wanting to make sure that the process was fair with what was going on in the city.
We asked Roseburg to show us proof that they actually had the water and it was legally theirs. They never showed us anything. We dug back through records into the 1930s, and we felt we had the proof, but it was largely based on Roseburg’s intentions to give the water to the city. When Roseburg started the business of taking our water away, we felt that it was a money thing for them — they were going to take the water and sell it to Crystal Geyser. And we just didn’t feel that that was right. It was our livelihood. It was our water. And then Roseburg stepped in and sued us with a SLAPP suit. So that was the beginning of our fight.
How has the issue impacted you and your community?
We petitioned the city council to support our efforts and they voted to support our group. Then the very next day, the nine of us got served with a 300+ page lawsuit from Roseburg. They had this thing waiting for us for some time. They were just waiting on a situation to present it to us.
The SLAPP suit drew the nine of us closer. We come from all walks of life and businesses and professions. It was a huge shock to the nine of us when we got a knock on our doors. It scared all of us to death.
What was it like when you found out you were being sued?
It was just a frightful thing because none of us had ever been into anything like this. It was a true David and Goliath situation. We had very few resources and Roseburg was a multimillion dollar company. And whether they were right or wrong, money sometimes wins out. And that’s what scared all of us. In the end, thanks to pro bono lawyers, our individual contributions to the lawsuit was around $475 for each one of us. But we were always afraid that if the lawsuit went against us, then we stood to lose our houses or whatever else. So that was a big fear in the beginning. It hangs over your head. You think about it 24/7, you go to bed at night and wake up in the morning and you think “What other shoe is going to fall?” It’s stressful.
Have you ever been involved in free speech activity in the past? What does speaking up mean to you and did this experience change how you think about free speech?
I’ve tried to stay active in the community, but I’ve never experienced anything like this, much less being sued for speaking out. Speaking out to me is — I’m old school — and I think what’s right is right. And in this particular incident it just felt wrong. And that’s why I’ve stayed the course and stayed with our group fighting this. The experience hasn’t changed how I think about free speech. Free speech is what it should be — as long as you’re not making slanderous remarks, then I think everybody should stand up.
Why didn’t you give up? Was quitting ever an option? This massive company came after you and you could have walked away, but you didn’t. Why?
Stubbornness is part of it. We felt that we were in the right, and all we had to do is produce documents we felt would would show the judge that the water was absolutely meant to be for the citizens of Weed. We we feel that Roseburg selling the water to Crystal Geyser should be the very last thing when it comes to the use of the water. It should be for public consumption first.
Quitting was never an option for any of us. The nine of us have stuck it through through thick and thin. When the company came after us, it scared us and we had to talk amongst ourselves and encourage one another to stay the course. And fortunately the nine of us did. We felt we were 100% in the right in our case, and we were stubborn enough not to give up.
What would you say to someone facing a similar threat, similar SLAPP suit?
Do your research and make sure you think you’re in the right. Above all, if you think you’re right, morally and legally don’t give up. Just be the bulldog and stay with it. If you believe you’re right, work through all the hardships and don’t give up — even when you’re facing a company with a multimillion dollar budget. Make sure that you believe in what you’re doing and fight on.
"The Weed 9 demonstrate the power of civic action"
"Protestors picket Roseburg Forest Products' Springfield headquarters over
California water rights"
'Weed 9' in Oregon to protest water grab"
"Citizens of Weed, CA protest for water rights in Springfield"
"Weed, CA Residents Protest Springfield Company's Actions"
“Weed Wages Water War” by Camilla Mortenson. An article in a regional weekly newspaper in the hometown of Roseburg Forest Products corporate headquarters on the Weed-Roseburg water controversy and the SLAPP suit:
“Watertown” In October, 2017 filmmaker Maya Craig held the first screenings of her documentary film about the Weed – Roseburg/Crystal Geyser water conflict. The film has been shown twice in Weed and is currently available through the filmmaker for select screenings.
December 15, 2017 Following the court dismissal of the lawsuit against the “Weed 9” on December 7th, we received national coverage through a follow-up article to the earlier coverage of this issue by the New York Times.
Judge dismisses 10 defendants in Roseburg suit
Defendants ask court to strike Roseburg water suit
Jane Braxton Little published a commentary piece on the Weed water conflict in our state capitol’s main newspaper:
May 24, 2017 In May of 2017 Roseburg Forest Products launched a “SLAPP” suit, meant to intimidate its critics into silence, against WCWC, nine individual Weed citizens and the City of Weed. On behalf of the “Weed 9” one of the co-defendants published this Guest Opinion piece titled, “Not Going to Give Up.”
As President of the group Citizens for Water for Weed, I attended the March meeting of the Scott Valley & Shasta Valley Water Master District Board of Directors.
Numerous members of the Water for Citizens of Weed California group made their voices heard at a meeting of the Scott Valley and Shasta Valley Watermaster District on March 29.
April 1, 2017. The national online edition of the monthly journal of the Sierra Club published an article by Leonie Sherman:
In February, 2017 this national environmental newsmagazine published an article by journalist Leonie Sherman, reprinted from Adventure Sports Journal California, exploring the issues around Roseburg’s actions to deprive Weed of the water upon which it has always depended:
On January 26, 2017 WCWC hosted a community meeting on the water issue at the College of the Siskiyous during which the ethical and legal reasons why the Beaughan Springs water should belong to the people of Weed were outlined.
Right in the front section of the Sunday New York Times, San Francisco Bureau Chief Thomas Fuller published a detailed article on our water conflict based on a several days visit to the area and extensive research. Due to the high-profile nature of the NY Times, the article was widely reprinted in other newspapers around the country and brought unprecedented attention to our campaign. The impacts of this widely seen and influential article are still being felt
Roseburg News Review September 24, 2016. After being contacted by WCWC, the local newspaper in Roseburg, Oregon, RFP’s operations center, published an article on the Weed-Roseburg water conflict:
WEED, Calif. - The city of Weed and Roseburg Forest Products Company announced Thursday that they have come to a 10 year lease extension agreement for the city's water supply to residents.
Weed City Council considers emergency declaration for water. The city of Weed and Roseburg Forest Products are at an impasse over water.
The Weed City Council is scheduled to consider contracts with Roseburg for municipal water and stormwater flows during their regular meeting April 14, 2016 at 5:30 p.m. at Weed City Hall
TV Redding Jefferson Public Radio and KRCR Our regional public radio station and Redding and Medford news outlets covered the controversy over the approval of a Water Lease Agreement between the City of Weed and Roseburg Forest Products in March, 2016. This included a public protest against the agreement outside the Weed City Hall. This was the first significant media attention to this issue outside of Siskiyou County.
The City of Weed and Roseburg Forest Products Company have both signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a 10-year lease extension for the city’s water supply.
Weed City Councilors voted 3-2 during a special meeting last week to approve a Memorandum of Agreement proposed by Roseburg Forest Products to extend the lease for the city’s water supply.
After months of negotiations between the City of Weed and Roseburg broke down in February, 2016, the Weed City Council moved towards declaring a “water emergency” due to the impending end of the 50-year lease agreement and Roseburg’s claim that it could then do whatever it wanted with the City’s main water source:
A possible emergency declaration and contingency plans regarding the City of Weed’s water supply are on the agenda for a special city council meeting, scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24.
Nov. 20, 2014 In late 2014 the conflict over the negotiations between Roseburg and the City of Weed regarding the future use of the water from Beaughan Springs heated up: