Will Parrish Announces Decision in Key Willits Bypass Case
Willits, CA-At a press conference to be held at noon at the Ukiah County Courthouse (100 N. State St.) today, environmental activist, teacher and journalist Will Parrish will announce the outcome of negotiations with District Attorney David Eyster, which will determine whether Parrish’s trial on 17 misdemeanors for protesting the Willits Bypass will go forward as scheduled on Jan. 28. Speaking at the press conference will be Will Parrish, attorney Omar Figueroa and SOLLV member Rosamond Crowder.
An addendum to this press release will be emailed out at noon today with the decision as it is announced.
Parrish is among the most visible of the dozens of activists arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience during the year-long protests against Caltrans Willits Bypass. He most famously occupied and shut down a wick drain “stitcher” tower for eleven days in June and July of 2013. During that time, Caltrans was prevented from driving thousands of drain tubes deep into the Little Lake Valley wetlands.
Parrish was originally charged with three simple infractions, an unspecified amount of restitution and no right to trial. After Parrish asserted his right to trial, Mendocino County DA David Eyster increased the charges to 17 misdemeanors and demanded $490,000 dollars in restitution. The issue of restitution has been a major sticking point in resolving the case. Many observers believe the restitution fees claimed by Caltrans were massively inflated and designed to have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights in general.
“The cost of dealing with the protestors has been grossly exaggerated by Caltrans. These costs are dwarfed by Caltrans’ mega-million dollar project which should be downsized”, said attorney Omar Figueroa, who represented Parrish pro bono.
Local community leaders and business owners say that costs could be greatly reduced or avoided entirely if Caltrans would take the reasonable course of building a roundabout on the north end of the proposed Bypass, saving tax dollars and wetlands. Plans for a roundabout and ground level two-lane freeway on the north end of Willits already exist and were once approved by Caltrans. This modification would save millions of dollars and protect about two thirds of the wetlands, an option Caltrans has so far refused to consider.
The final cost of the six mile, $210 million dollar project, including bond interest and overruns, is likely to exceed $500 million in an area with a falling population and decreasing traffic. Opponents charge Caltrans with falsely inflating traffic data to justify the need for a four-lane freeway and misrepresenting a federal funding mandate to do so.
The project will use untold amounts of ground water during six years of construction and is predicted to add more carbon to the atmosphere from cement and vehicle emissions than it could save in over 80 years of use. While the bypass will not use water from the reservoir that supplies the City of Willits, it will use treated wastewater for dust control and compaction. Local farmers say Caltrans’ wells are already depleting local ground water.
The Willits City Council has declared a Mandatory Level V water emergency. Additional supplies from wells are being sought to supplement the town’s fast dwindling reserves. Governor Brown has declared a statewide drought.
“We can’t conserve water and reduce carbon while simultaneously building more humongous freeways with great carbon inputs and enormous water demands that perpetuate burning more fossil fuel. This is madness.” said Parrish.
Addendum to Press Release sent out this morning Jan 23, 2014 re. Will Parrish trial in Caltrans Willits Bypass case: