Chris Hardaker: Willits Bypass — Killing The Whistleblower…

Journalist/whistleblower Will Parrish, at the office…

Photos: Steve Eberhard, Willits News

A Post-911 Tradition Comes to Willits, Ca, (or,  “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?”)

“A whistleblower is a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organization. The alleged misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health and safety violations, and corruption. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally (for example, to other people within the accused organization) or externally (to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues).” Wikipedia


Whistleblowing has been a grand American pastime for a long time, one of the few really populist joys this country had to offer. It used to have a TV show: 60 Minutes. Things have changed, though, since 9/11 because now it is the messengers who are in court while the criminals are vacationing in Bermuda. The numbers are very bad, and whistleblowers across the country who feel they are doing their duty suddenly discover themselves in a game of Whack-a-Mole. Guess who’s the mole? Stick your head above the fray to tell your community and country of institutional or corporate misdeeds, like you are supposed to, and, watch out!

The whistleblowing campaign against the ill-conceived Caltrans Bypass is finally beginning to have an official effect. Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has notified CalTrans it is “out of compliance” regarding the bypass fiasco, and now that toxic fill from an old lumber mill can no longer be used to build up the bypass route or repair football fields, and while other plaintiffs are beginning to circle CalTrans in what might turn out to be a feeding frenzy, we need to look briefly at how the local anti-Bypass movement all began.

It began with a dedicated group of educated bellbangers who put their bodies and their souls on the line, in the trees and in the streets and in the press. Since January 2013, some of the anti-CalTrans Bypass whistleblowers have really put their nose to the grindstone up here, well, except usually it’s asphalt, sometimes lake silts. One of these incidents happened early on, and it was even in the grand tradition of Selma, Alabama 1963, or even Florida 2013 – but in Willits, the miscreant wasn’t even black!

 Visitors Beware! This is what happens when you walk on the wrong side of the street in Willits…

This is Sara Grusky, ~110lb., Farmer, Scofflaw, former Political Science Professor.  Here you see her representing the state of the 1st Amendment in Mendocino County, tied up and ready for market.

Sara was seized in the road in front of the Coleman Ranch, shoved to the ground, hog-tied, thrown in the back of a CHP cruiser, and confined for three days. Brought to arraignment in shackles and chains, she was charged with “walking on the wrong side of the street.”

It’s Me. County, 2013, and the evolution of the steroid-driven security madness inspired by 9/11/01 has reached into the heart of Willits, aka “The Heart of Mendocino County.” The CalTrans machine has come to town, becoming the largest landholder in Little Lake Valley.

On another day, the same day the fasting Warbler was taken from her tree-sitting platform high above several dozen CHP officers in riot gear, Will Parrish was wrestled to the asphalt for a similar traffic infraction motivated by the needless forest destruction and a care and concern that his friend not be alone in a holding cell: a single act by a journalist who was exercising his 1st Amendment – the same journalist who sounded one of the first bells about criminal and unethical practices of, by, and for the CalTrans bypass project around Willits.

You do what you can in civil disobedience, and what you do if you are successful is to make sure the outside world knows the dark doings of something the public is paying for with its tax dollars. The standard “not in our name” also means “not with our tax dollars.” It is a great American tradition, and it remains vibrant and alive in Will Parrish and the other whistleblowers up here trying to bring attention to this travesty. And in the world of ‘civil disobedience on a dime,’ you do what you can, non-violently. Always non-violently. Being arrested is not violence. Instead, it is a form of whistleblowing that brings institutional misdeeds to the attention of the mass media, who often require arrests as a primary threshold for their interest.

Will Parrish, a serious journalist, is especially familiar with official contradictions, mis-statements, chicanery, corruption, criminality, deceit, duplicity, falsehood, fraud, mendacity, treachery, trickery, artifice, bunk, cheating, cunning, double-dealing, faithlessness, falsity, flimflam, guile, hocus-pocus and hanky-panky, infamy, rascality, slyness, trickiness, unscrupulousness, wiliness, fourberie [yes, fourberie], and in general, the incessant pettifogging that have transpired over the generations of discussion about a bypass around Willits.

Parrish has been writing about and working against this obscene boondoggle since January, devoting himself to bringing attention to the unnecessary and wasteful, if not criminal destruction of water, habitat, trees, and other treasures Nature has afforded the valley, as well as the destruction of 30% of the businesses in this town (CalTrans’ own estimates).

The bypass has been a deeply confused and protracted proposition generally met with apathy and decades of silence here and there. There has also been a poverty of imagination. For example, the perfect, cost-effective, make-everyone-happy (except CalTrans) cure to this half-century malady is a single phrase:  the railroad route. This was suggested and printed up ten years ago by the friendly folks of Willits. It solved everything for real cheap.

Instead, with a Phase 1 budget close to $400M, CalTrans is wrecking a town – 30% loss of business– and a salmon-rich forested wetlands habitat to save a bypass. About the latter, an entirely separate state investigation should be initiated and focused on the entire environmental protection apparatus in California. The clearances signed off for the bypass by both environmental and, sadly, cultural resource professionals are at best shameful. If here, then where else?

In a larger context, the “inter-regional” nature of the bypass project presages a grossly bulldozed straightening and widening of Hwy 101 from Hopland to Eureka, a magnificent eco-drive that makes the famous 17-Mile Drive of Big Sur seem like an oceanside pit stop. Instead, 101 will become the long-awaited route for toxic and nuclear wastes with direct access to port cities. Yum yum.

The Trial of Will Parrish

Journalists are also activists. Ask Woodward and Bernstein. Ask Glenn Greenwald. Will Parrish spent almost two weeks on a Wick Drill crane, preventing its use, and prevented from receiving food or water for several days, by order of CalTrans, until medical officials arrived to demand he receive what he needed. Instead of accepting the three infractions first cited as part of a plea bargain, he chose a jury trial in Ukiah. You do what you have to do, and this was an opportunity to further apprise the public to the unfolding travesty up the road. In a surprisingly, some would say vindictive, reaction, DA David Eyster tossed the infractions and leveled 16 charges against Parrish, carrying possibly up to six years in jail. Some might think this kind of vindictive persecution has become the norm these days for whistleblowers and other activists, like Aaron Swartz.

And now the kicker.  If Will is found guilty, then he may be forced to pay restitution fees for the time lost by keeping the drill rig from being used. This is a radical precedent that could shut down most, if not all, forms of whistleblowing and civil disobedience. What if Edward Snowden, if he ever gets to court, has to pay for all the extra PR dollars that the NSA has had to dole out attempting to spin the surveillance scandal in their favor? That would be in the Million$. Here, Will faces tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. This is without precedent. That makes Will Parrish’s case a national concern. The next time you protest, you might lose your house. You will find it shading the grave for the 1st Amendment.

Will Parrish: The Insanity Of The Willits Bypass… (Jan 18, 2013)

Bob Whitney: 839 Miles Of Wick, Open Letter to Jane Hicks (ACE) (May 19, 2013)

Florida Man Arrested, Charged and Tried for Walking on Wrong Side of Street, Resisting Arrest Without Violence

KGO- 7 Reports from San Francisco

National Whistleblowers Center


Chris, Thanks for your article and clear expression of the reality of the Bypass and the actions of people like Will who are telling the truth and waking people to what CalTrans is doing. I hope others will read and comment as well.

When the game is rigged, the riggers can only be stopped by exposure.