More than 400 protesters gathered outside a meeting about water resources in Auburn on Friday.
The meeting was held by the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association. U.S. Representatives Tom McClintock and Doug LaMalfa were there to discuss regional water issues with association members.
The association initially sold $40 tickets to the public, but refunded those tickets on Feb. 14 – days after the Oroville dam evacuation.
The timing seemed suspicious to some of the people who had their tickets refunded, including South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) Executive Director Caleb Dardick. SYRCL was one of the groups that initially raised concerns about the Oroville dam to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005.
“I can't say for sure the motives, but people don't like conflict,” Dardick said.
Mountain Counties Water Resources Association Executive Director John Kingsbury said tickets were refunded because the group’s members brought more guests than expected, and there was simply not space at the Ridge Golf Course and Events Center, where the meeting was held.
People who had their tickets refunded were joined by protesters calling for a town hall with LaMalfa, who has not held a town hall with constituents since 2016. Many recent town halls held by Republican representatives, including McClintock, have become contentious.
LaMalfa said the Oroville emergency led him decide not to hold town halls this week.
“They’re dealing with evacuations… I couldn’t imagine a town hall in the middle of that would have been the most conducive thing,” LaMalfa said.
LaMalfa said he was not intimidated by the prospect of meeting angry crowds in a town hall setting.
“I’m not scared – I’ve always had [town halls] and engaged the public,” LaMalfa said, adding that he’s been told he’s one of the more easily reachable elected officials.
Many of the protesters were eager to talk with LaMalfa about the proposed Centennial Dam, a planned dam along the Bear River.
Shelly Covert, a spokesperson for the Nevada City Rancheria, said the dam would cause damage to Nisenan burial grounds.
“It was great to see such a showing of support for this issue. Water is life,” Covert said.
A number of the people gathered outside the event carried signs asserting they were not paid protesters, eagerly pulling out their IDs.
“I’m not a paid protester,” Dave Garcia said, pulling out his Calif. license that showed his Oroville address. “I would make more money if I was.”