The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday spent another two hours debating the fate of a billboard that was felled by wind last November, ultimately voting 3-2 to allow owner AllPoints Sign Company to rebuild the structure. However, in doing so, the three-member board majority added a provision that will require the sign, which sits in wetlands along the Elk River, to be permanently removed within five years.

That’s assuming it gets rebuilt. If AllPoints owner Geoff Wills accepts this five-year provision, he’ll still need to get approval from the California Coastal Commission before rebuilding the billboard.

Convinced by our legal analysis that a CEQA exemption would be a violation of state environmental protections, Humboldt County released a Mitigated Negative Declaration claiming that all wetland impacts related to re-building of this destroyed sign will be "less than significant."
Comments are due Sept. 7 for the Board of Supervisors' Sept. 15 hearing. 
We’re in the process of reviewing the document and we’ll keep you posted!

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday held off making a decision on the rebuilding of a controversial billboard after complicated questions emerged about the structure’s legality and environmental effects.

After a lengthy, often tense discussion, the supervisors postponed a decision to its Aug. 18 meeting, finding that county staff needs more time to investigate the billboard’s effects on the surrounding environment.

Staff had supported approving the rebuild — even after the county planning commission in May went against staff recommendation to deny the permit — but flipped at the eleventh hour after Planning and Building director John Ford said that a conversation with the project engineer that very morning had introduced new information about the billboard’s structural features.

Specifically, Ford said the billboard would dig additional holes in the wetlands, which wasn’t in the plans Ford had previously reviewed and needed further review to establish certainty.

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On the surface, the question was simple. Should Eureka’s AllPoints Sign Company be allowed to rebuild this thing? The advertising plank — some version of which has been in this spot for more than 60 years — blew over in a November windstorm, and AllPoints owner Geoff Wills wants to re-erect it.

Beneath the surface, however, lies a bureaucratic thicket of rules and regulations, raising questions about everything from potential environmental impacts to permit histories, engineering plans, agency jurisdictions and more. 

The staff report recommended approving the project — both at the Planning Commission meeting and again for today’s meeting. But after the public comment period, Ford reversed course. He said that his conversation with the project’s engineer this morning provided new information that hadn’t previously been considered.

“There could be up to 18 new holes dug that could be up to three feet in diameter within a wetland environment,” he said. “This has not been the context within which this [project] has been assessed.” That being the case, he said, “It would be my recommendation to not approve [the Planning Commission ruling] appeal or the special permit without having that additional information at least.”

Supervisor Mike Wilson’s motion to continue the matter to the board’s Aug. 18 meeting passed 3-2, giving county staff time to explore a host of unanswered (or insufficiently answered) questions, including:

  • the potential environmental impacts of digging foundation holes;

  • potential tribal concerns with those concrete footings;

  • any jurisdictional concerns from the State Lands Agency;

  • possible issues pertaining to public trust resources; and

  • the status of the original CalTrans Outdoor Advertising permit for the billboard.

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An advertising company that owns a billboard destroyed by heavy winds late last year wants to reconstruct it, which could pose a complicated legal question for Humboldt County at an upcoming appeal hearing at the board of supervisors.

Eureka-based Allpoints Outdoor, Inc., owns the billboard, along with a number of other roadside signs along the coastal wetlands off U.S. Highway 101 just south of Eureka. New billboards are no longer allowed to be built there, but existing ones are grandfathered into the current zoning.

The key question for the board of supervisors: If a damaged billboard is rebuilt, does it constitute a new billboard altogether or the reconstruction of the old one?

“Putting a billboard upstream from a highway bridge is expressly prohibited by state law,” Jennifer Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper said. “In a flood, the billboard could be swept into the river… Even if you don’t care about coastal wetlands, you should care about that.” 

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