After Recent Settlement Agreement, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors Repeals Discriminatory Water Ordinances
Class Action Against County’s Sweeping Persecution Campaign Continues
YREKA, Calif. – Two years after Siskiyou County enacted a series of targeted ordinancesthat deprived thousands of Hmong American, Chinese American, and other Asian American residents of basic water for survival, hygiene, and wildfire defense, community members secured an important milestone this week in their fight to build a home, live safely, and raise their families without fear of bigotry and racist persecution by local officials.
As of August 1, 2023, Siskiyou County has repealed two of its water ordinances that created a humanitarian crisis for Asian American residents, degraded their health, resulted in the loss of livestock and gardens, left people unable to fend off wildfires, and forced many to leave their homes. The county also amended a third water ordinance to establish due process protections and limit violation fines that discouraged people from providing water. All Siskiyou County residents, including those in Shasta Vista, Dorris, and Macdoel, can now lawfully bring water to their homes via trucks and purchase water for basic needs from neighboring large well owners.
These measures came after a settlement in Lo v. Siskiyou County, led by 11 Siskiyou County residents who were denied basic water needs as part of the county’s well-documented campaign of harassment, discrimination, and racial profiling against Asian American community members. A federal court ordered the county to stop enforcement of two water ordinances to prevent the “dehydration and de facto expulsion of a disfavored minority” in 2021. In 2022, the federal judge ruled against the county’s attempts to end this preliminary injunction, noting “the passage of time has erased neither the concerning language County officials used to describe their purposes nor the racial animosity Hmong people in Shasta Vista have faced.” The Lo plaintiffs were represented by the law offices of Allison B. Margolin, PLC and Frank S. Moore, APC. The Asian Law Caucus and the ACLU of Northern California filed briefs in support of the Loplaintiffs’ lawsuit, showing that Siskiyou County’s discriminatory practices extended beyond water, including racial profiling in traffic stops and the use of punitive liens.
“My neighbors and I have been forced to make impossible choices between bathing every week and providing water to our pets, livestock, and gardens. County officials said they wanted to ‘choke’ us out, and these water ordinances were one tool in a shameful playbook to push so many of us out of the neighborhoods we call home,” said Russell Mathis, who lives in Siskiyou County. “Today, we celebrate an important victory affirming our human right to water and our rights to live without oppressive fear and trauma, simply because of where we were born or what we look like. Although it is still difficult for me to get water due to the county’s actions, I’m glad that these ordinances are gone.”
Siskiyou County’s Campaign of Racist Hostility and Persecution Held to Account
In August 2022, Asian American community members filed a major class action lawsuitagainst Siskiyou County officials and the Siskiyou Sheriff’s Department for their sweeping racial persecution campaign. In this case, Chang v. Siskiyou County, community members and their attorneys at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus, and Covington & Burling LLP detailed how county officials restrict people’s right to water and execute unlawful traffic stops, search and seizure practices, and property liens in a blatant effort to isolate residents of Asian descent and drive them out of the region.
Just as community members led a settlement in Lo v. Siskiyou County to restore their right to water, community members leading the Chang v. Siskiyou County class action lawsuit are currently in settlement negotiations to resolve claims of racial discrimination.
“As the Asian American community in Siskiyou has grown, including more parents enrolling their kids in school, grandparents retiring to more rural areas that remind them of Laos, and families trying to be closer together, Siskiyou County and the Sheriff’s Department have gone to troubling lengths to push out the Asian American community, and community members are taking action to create a safe, inclusive place to live,” said John Do, senior staff attorney for the Racial & Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California.
“Siskiyou County’s bigoted practices draw from a long history of U.S. policies treating people of Asian descent as less than full Americans who ‘don’t belong’ in our country, picking and choosing who has the freedom to build better lives and live safely,” said Glenn Katon, litigation director for the Asian Law Caucus. “Our case to end the county’s unconscionable campaign of harassment and discrimination builds upon the work of countless community members, Ms. Margolin, and Mr. Moore who helped to restore the human right to water for thousands of people this week.”
Siskiyou County is home to fewer than 45,000 people, of whom 85% are white and 1.6% are Asian American, according to the latest U.S. Census. Many Asian American residents in Siskiyou County are Hmong and came to the U.S. as refugees after fighting alongside the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. Siskiyou County’s water ordinances followed a long history of racist water policies used to target Black, Latino, and other communities of color and uphold segregation in California, particularly in unincorporated communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and in other states across the country.
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