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GOLIS: Protesters taking a bough

  • A CHP officer on Tuesday helps protester Mark Herbert down from a tree he had been inhabiting along Highway 101 south of Willits. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

After California Highway Patrol officers arrested eight people, including five tree sitters, at a Willits highway construction site last week, state CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow told reporters that the intervention was news to him.

Here was a startling admission. An assignment that involves helmeted officers climbing trees, riding cherry pickers and arresting people 70 feet in the air doesn't sound like another day at the office. If I were the boss of the CHP — you need to use your imagination here — I would want to know before my officers began an operation certain to generate controversy.

Two days after the arrests, state officials still hadn't explained why the crackdown on the 9-week-old protest needed to happen on this day.

Most elected officials chose to keep their opinions to themselves, but state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, was not among them.

The CHP and Caltrans decided to stage the intervention on the same day Evans was scheduled to discuss the Willits highway bypass with Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty, and she was not happy about it.

“I'm shocked and dismayed at what seems to be an excessive use of force on unarmed protesters,” Evans' press release said. (And, yes, she did say “shocked and dismayed.”)

The press release posted on her official website doesn't mention that one protester was arrested for assault after allegedly flinging human feces and urine at the arresting officers. (Sorry if you were eating breakfast.)

In the showdown at Willits, you will recognize two North Coast political traditions — tree-sitting as a form of protest and squabbling over the routing of a new highway.

The people who were arrested are trying to stop construction of the long-planned, $210 million Highway 101

bypass around Willits.

No one doubts their dedication. Sitting in trees for days on end is nobody's idea of a good time.

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