WILLITS, 7/1/17 — The following is a statement read by Willits Councilwoman Madge Strong to the Willits City Council, at their regular meeting on Wednesday, 6/28/17. It has been forwarded to us as a letter to the editor.
From Madge Strong:
There have been some ironic and disturbing revelations in the past couple weeks.
One is the news that instead of costing a mere $300 million, the Caltrans Willits Bypass actually has cost $460 million. Compare that with the City’s total general fund expense (in the proposed ’17-‘18 budget) of $4.2 million – in other words, the money spent on this freeway could have provided police, parks & recreation, roads & public works, planning, and administration for our entire City for well over 100 years.
Because of the Bypass’ impact on our local economy, and in turn the City’s expected reduced gas, sales and transient occupancy tax revenues, the budget projects a $400,000 general fund deficit. The Bypass cost more than 1,000 times that shortfall!
Most of the Bypass cost was borne by state taxpayers (which includes us, of course), but about $42 million came from MCOG’s transportation funds, wiping out pretty much all funds for our entire county’s needed road projects.
It’s no use crying over spilt milk and all those hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been saved if Caltrans had considered a different bypass – one that better served our community, environment and Native heritage.
Now we must try to put our town on the map as one of the best towns in northern California, worth getting off the freeway for. Try to help our businesses survive and thrive post-Bypass. Count on our small City staff to keep our services going with their dedication.
But then it’s especially ironic that Caltrans, on a small little project here in town, decided it was more convenient to cut down four lovely old cork oak trees on Main Street in front of the High School than to work around them. Shade, beauty, and nature weren’t valued. Again, no use crying over spilt milk…
But there’s something wrong with the priorities in this country and in this state, when billions are siphoned from programs that serve public needs and instead give tax cuts and enrich the richest few, the special interests. When we spend more on prisons than education. When we ignore climate change while continuing to burn coal, frack for oil, and – yes – build more freeways and cut down trees.
Here locally, what are our priorities and values? In whatever ways we can, I want Willits to be part of the solution. Let’s help and support each other in our community, make improvements that benefit all, and protect the precious resources we still are blessed with. It’s up to us, individually and collectively, with our hearts, hands and brains, to make the future we want for our children and grandchildren.
Madge Strong is a councilwoman for the City of Willits.