Closed signs and empty streets; a ghost town. This was the city of Oroville for about a week when almost 200,000 people had to evacuate because of the Spillway failure, and so many are still feeling those impacts.
Ted Hanson owns Brushstrokes, an art store in Oroville.
“We’ve been fortunate that I make enough to pay the rent, that’s about it. Rent and utilities,” he said.
He opened the shop in August of 2016 and showcases the work of more than 40 local artists as well as offers classes and events like wine and paint parties.
He said things were going really well until the crisis happened, and then it got scary.
“The store was just a mess, artists were running in here frantically trying to get their art out of here, so I had ladders for taking art work down; it was chaos.”
He’s also lost a lot of money as a result.
“Tonight I have a really good artist and nobody signed up for his paintings.”
And the city claims it’s lost a lot of money too, which is why it is suing the Department of Water Resources
“This was no natural disaster, as they say in Sacramento, this was putting profits in the pockets and the hell with safety,” said Joe Cotchett of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP.
The city filed an about 800 page lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon, saying the DWR’s neglect damaged roads and infrastructure, cost a lot of money for evacuations, as well as hurt its economy and tax base.
“When the people of Oroville, and this county, Butte County, talk about the mafia water companies, that’s exactly what they were. They were the mafia, they thought they could get away with anything,” Cotchett said.
The lawsuit also goes beyond just money, and it brings up some powerful allegations.
Cotchett said in that 800 page lawsuit, which apparently has a lot of redacted notes, we are going to find some shocking things about the atmosphere that was created around the dam.
“There is a picture of a noose in this document of 800 pages. And you ask what the relevance of a noose is? The noose was hung out in a maintenance room to intimidate an African American maintenance man that spoke up.”
Another attorney said the city is outraged at the evidence of the intimidation, the discrimination of women and people of color, and of the mismanagement of the entire department.
They don’t yet have an exact dollar amount, but said it’s likely to be about $500 million to $1 billion.
They also said this is just the initial lawsuit, but more will likely be coming because there are farmers who lost a lot of money as a result of this crisis.
And for Hanson, a Vietnam vet and former firefighter, he says he’ll continue doing what he loves, and just hopes things will get better.