Willits (formerly, Little Lake and Willitsville) is a city in Mendocino County, California, United States. Willits is located 20 miles (32 km) north-northwest of Ukiah, at an elevation of 1391 feet (424 m). The population was 5,073 at the 2000 census. Willits is at the center of Mendocino County and its redwood forests. An arch donated to the city by Reno, Nevada in 1995 stands in the center of town and displays Willits' slogans "Heart of Mendocino County" and "Gateway to the Redwoods." The Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California are headquartered here.
Located at the center of Mendocino County in the Little Lake Valley, 20 miles (32 km) north of Ukiah on U.S. Route 101 (otherwise known as the Redwood Highway). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2), all of it land.
The mountains to the west cause Willits to have a cool winter and hot summer climate. Average January temperatures range from 32.7 °F (0.4 °C) to 54.9 °F (12.7 °C). Average July temperatures range from 47.3 °F (8.5 °C) to 85.3 °F (29.6 °C). There are an average of 34.5 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher, and an average of 80.3 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record maximum temperature was 108 °F (42 °C) on July 15, 1972, and the record minimum temperature was 5 °F (−15 °C) on December 9, 1972.
Annual precipitation averages 51.00 inches (1,295 mm). The wettest year on record was 1983 with 91.58 inches (2,326 mm) and the driest year on record was 1985 with 30.31 inches (770 mm). The maximum precipitation in one month was 31.41 inches (798 mm) in December 1964. The maximum precipitation in 24 hours was 8.80 inches (224 mm) on December 22, 1964. There are an average of 94 days with measurable precipitation.
Hiram Willits settled at the site in 1857. Kirk Brier founded the settlement on Willits' land. Willits was originally called Willitsville. Later, when the post office opened in 1861 it was called Little Lake. The name changed to Willits in 1874. Willits incorporated in 1888.
The city is the eastern terminus of the California Western Railroad (otherwise known as the "Skunk Train"), running through the Coast Redwood forests to coastal Fort Bragg. The old redwood Willits Depot was built in 1915 by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific. It is registered as a National Historic Place.
Every July, Willits hosts the Frontier Days & Rodeo, the oldest continuous rodeo and Independence Day celebration in California. It is also home to the Roots of Motive Power Locomotive Museum and the Mendocino County Museum.
The Willits area is the final home of the racehorse Seabiscuit. Ridgewood Ranch, where Seabiscuit trained, recuperated, lived out his retirement and was buried, is located a few miles south of the city.
Willits High School is located on the north end of Willits. It is the home of the Wolverines.
Some notable names from Willits include Judi Bari, labour leader and environmental activist who fought to save the Redwoods. Over 1000 people attended her funeral here in 1997. Tre Cool, the drummer for Green Day, and Mona Gnader, the bass player for Sammy Hagar. Although the band Tommy Tutone is usually referred to as "a San Francisco band", they were located in Willits at the time that their enduring hit single "Jenny (867-5309)" was released. Hal Wagenet, guitarist for the band It's A Beautiful Day in their early years, is a graduate of Willits High School. The folk singer Jeff Buckley spent a year at Willits High School. Stagecoach bandit Charles Bolles (aka Black Bart) stole multiple Wells Fargo boxes and mail from stagecoaches traveling through Willits. Technical death metal bands Embryonic Devourment & Hellusinit also come from Willits.
During the 1950s, seascape painter Marshall Merritt maintained a studio in Willits.
Many residents of the city are currently embroiled in a class-action lawsuit against the Whitman Corporation, alleging that hexavalent chromium pollution left by the Remco Hydraulics chrome plating plant, which was owned by Whitman and operated in Willits from 1964-1995, is responsible for a host of local health problems. Litigator Erin Brockovich, known for the eponymous movie about her work in a similar case, is participating in the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Five miles east of Willits, the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts Of America operates a 2,200-acre (8.9 km2) camp named Wente Scout Reservation. Previously known as Willits Scout Ranch, the camp in 1984 "saved" the town of Willits during an emergency water crisis by releasing 20,000 acre feet (25,000,000 m3) of water from their private lake into the town's water system.
Willits benefits economically from the widespread cultivation of marijuana in the surrounding hills. Mendocino County, like the rest of California, allows medical use of marijuana and people with a physician-certified need for it are allowed to grow their own marijuana for medical use. Formerly, each person was allowed to grow up to 25 marijuana plants according to a Mendocino county ballot measure called "Measure G", which was voted into effect in 2000. In 2008, however, measure G was repealed, bringing the maximum number of plants allowed to 6 mature plants or 12 immature plants per person, as well as setting the maximum amount of dried marijuana allowed at 8 ounces (227 grams) per person, equal with the California state limits.
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,073 people, 1,935 households, and 1,230 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,813.7 people per square mile (699.5/km²). There were 2,013 housing units at an average density of 719.7/sq mi (277.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 3,247 (62.72%) White, 32 (0.63%) African American, 179 (3.53%) Native American, 59 (1.16%) Asian, 20 (0.04%) Pacific Islander, 359 (7.08%) from other races, and 195 (3.84%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race numbered 2,154, or 40.69% of the population.
There were 1,935 households out of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.2% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.15.
In the city the population was spread out with 29.2% under the age of 18, 8.5% from 18 to 24, 25.9% from 25 to 44, 22.6% from 45 to 64, and 14.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 90.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,283, and the median income for a family was $36,193. Males had a median income of $30,983 versus $22,089 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,642. About 11.6% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.0% of those under age 18 and 4.3% of those age 65 or over.
In the state legislature Willits is located in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Pat Wiggins, and in the 1st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Wes Chesbro. Federally, Willits is located in California's 1st congressional district, which has a Cook PVI of D +13 and is represented by Democrat Mike Thompson.