Unified front

Coalition calling itself Oroville Strong! emphasizes accountability

Assemblyman James Gallagher tells a group gathered in Oroville that he’s working to ensure they don’t have to fear living in the shadow of the Oroville Dam.

Assemblyman James Gallagher tells a group gathered in Oroville that he’s working to ensure they don’t have to fear living in the shadow of the Oroville Dam.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

As president and CEO of the Oroville Area Chamber of Commerce, Sandy Linville is accustomed to being on stage, to selling her city as a great place to live, recreate and do business. But her role took on a whole new dimension this past February, when all of a sudden her city of gold became known worldwide as a danger zone.

“Everybody heard, ‘Dam failure imminent,’” she told a group of 50 or so local business owners, residents and politicians who’d gathered Tuesday (May 23) on the patio of Miners Alley Brewing Co. “It’s time for DWR to make amends for the damage caused.”

The group had assembled to celebrate the official launch of Oroville Strong!, a coalition of businesses and individuals hoping to make their collective voices heard throughout California and beyond.

“Our mission is simple,” Linville continued, “to find meaningful solutions to make the dam work for us.”

Linville was the first of several speakers who braved the near-triple-digit heat to unveil their unified message and keep the community abreast of ongoing efforts to not only improve Oroville’s image following the spillway disaster but also to work toward better safety measures and more complete answers about the dam from, in particular, the state Department of Water Resources.

The region’s state representatives, Assemblyman James Gallagher and Sen. Jim Nielsen, didn’t mince words when it came to discussing the safety of the dam.

“James and I, we consider it our major service to you to make sure they come clean,” Nielsen said of DWR officials. “The whole state has profited all these years from this dam—it’s not simply a Northern California issue.”

Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly, whose district includes Oroville, told the crowd he was OK with his growing reputation as a “hard-ass”—“I guess somebody has to be that,” he joked. In a more serious tone, he promised to hold DWR accountable not only when it comes to safety but also to promises made to protect the region’s economic viability. “We need respect from them,” he demanded.

The overall message of Oroville Strong!, which before Tuesday’s gathering boasted 72 members, was accountability, safety and presenting a unified message of “we’re still in business” to local residents as well as the public outside of Oroville.

“Up here in Northern California, we get forgotten about,” Linville told the CN&R following the speeches. “We need to be unified to be heard.”

In the two days that Oroville was under mandatory evacuation, she said local businesses lost a minimum of $5 million in revenues. “We decided right then—the day after the evacuation was lifted —that we can’t have this happen again. We need to do something because there’s too much at risk.”

And Oroville Strong!, at that time a mere idea and catch phrase, was born. In the immediate works is a digital visual marketing campaign for the region, which will include television commercials, social media outreach and a film about Oroville. A pamphlet about the campaign describes it: “In order to set the record straight, we are creating a campaign to heal the community, rebuild confidence in our infrastructure, and provide an accurate portrayal of who and where Oroville is.”

While the business community works to promote a positive image of Oroville, politicians like Connelly, Gallagher and Nielsen are working toward better communication with state officials and to ensure funding for the future, both in terms of infrastructure repair and to improve the local economy.

Gallagher highlighted safety as one of his main concerns, both with the spillways as well as the levees that extend to his family’s home in Yuba City. He’s been part of two oversight hearings in Sacramento thus far, he said, and he’s dedicated to holding a third in Oroville so concerned locals have an opportunity to attend. A date is forthcoming.

Nielsen, in addressing the crowd, spoke about the difficulty he’d had getting straight answers from DWR. In so saying, he suggested that problems didn’t end at the spillways.

“You never just look at an isolated part of a major project like this,” he told the CN&R afterward. “We’ve observed patches of green in the dam. Green indicates water. I’ve questioned DWR, and they seem to be taking it lightly.

“Now, it may not be anything serious,” he continued. “But it’s one of many red flags. It’s important that we keep after them and demand more than just cursory answers.”