Advertisers protest impact on local businesses


The Arcata City Council has now joined the ongoing battle of the bayside billboards along the Highway 101 Safety Corridor by approving a letter calling for the removal of five signs that stand within the city limits and sphere of influence.

The letter sent to Caltrans Office of Outdoor Advertising requests the state agency to revoke the signs’ Outdoor Advertising Act permits. The letter was approved on Wednesday by the four present council members with Councilwoman Susan Ornelas absent. No public comment was given. The letter includes several reasons why the five boards should be removed such as claiming they stand in the right of way of the billboard-opposing North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), the billboard’s obstruction of the planned Humboldt Bay Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail route, the California Coastal Commission’s request to remove billboards as part of Caltrans’ Safety Corridor Project, and a 1,200 signature petition to remove the signs that was spearheaded by a former Arcata city councilman, Dave Meserve.

“Since both the NCRA and the City of Arcata are not consenting to the presence of the billboards on property which they control or have land use jurisdiction over, it is clear that these five billboards should be removed,” the letter states.

According to the letter, the five billboards stand between the southbound South G Street entrance and the Bayside Cutoff and advertise for the following businesses: Bailey Mortgage, Fisch Drilling, Living Styles, Shell, and Bear River Casino. Allpoints Signs owner Geoff Wills said that he manages all five signs, which are owned by advertising giant Outfront Media Inc., previously known as CBS Outdoor Advertising Inc.


“They all have Caltrans permits and asking Outfront (Media), they all have land leases with the NCRA,” Wills said. “... It’s interesting that the city takes a stance on something like this. Many businesses in the city of Arcata benefit from billboards and cause them to increase their tax base.”

In February, Wills had to remove one of his own signs along the 6-mile Highway 101 Safety Corridor between Arcata and Eureka after Caltrans notified him and an owner of two other signs that it were revoking their advertising permits. Caltrans’ letter claimed the billboards violated a state code that says that the landowner must “have consented to the placing of the advertising display.”

The owners of one of the newly targeted advertised local businesses say they are willing to work with community’s needs, but ask not to be left out of the picture of impacts in the struggle between government entities and advertising giants. “I would not have as much of a problem with the process if they would offer something so that businesses that are advertising, which are people providing jobs in the community and money to the community...” Dave Fisch of Fisch Drilling said, trailing off. “That they’re not cutting you off at the knees and saying, ‘Sorry, we just don’t want you here.’”

On the front

Over the last year, the over 20 billboards along the corridor have been subject to many tiers of scrutiny ranging from court hearings to a vandal sawing down three boards. The NCRA, which was created through state legislation to restore and preserve the Northwest Pacific rail service, has taken the stance that all billboards located within its right of way within the safety corridor should be removed. The California Coastal Commission has conditionally approved Caltrans’ coastal development permit for its ongoing Safety Corridor Improvement Project that is currently working to create a raised interchange at the Indianola Cutoff and other change. One of the mandated conditions Caltrans needs to adhere to is to remove as many billboards as is feasible along the safety corridor. Outfront Media challenged the condition in the Humboldt County Superior Courthouse in early 2014, but the case was dismissed by Judge Bruce Watson last month. Watson stated the case was filed too early as Caltrans had yet to identify any billboards for removal.

Meserve, who opposed bayside billboards when he was on the Arcata City Council, recently created a petition that gained 1,200 signatures in support of removing all of the bayside billboards and has gone on his own campaign placing small signs next to billboard, which call for Outfront Media to “tear down this billboard.”

“It’s increasingly apparent that public opinion along with pressure from public agencies is in favor of removing the billboards,” Meserve said. “I’m hoping that will put pressure on Caltrans to revoke the permits.”

Second District Humboldt County Supervisor and NCRA board Chairwoman Estelle Fennell said that NCRA’s stance on signs along the corridor is nonexclusive and that Meserve’s signs are no exception.

“We’re against all signs on our property. We are following a specific process, we made it clear what our concerns are,” she said.

Wills said he has been removing Meserve’s signs of protest from the billboards he manages — as well as one recently laid against the door of his Eurekabased business — stating that Meserve is trespassing on private property. Meserve said he disagrees, claiming the billboards also don’t have a right to be on the land.

The three billboards standing within the Eureka city that were removed last month were taken down as a result of NCRA action.

The land under the billboards is owned by the NCRA, which has been working since at least 2006 to have three signs removed, arguing that it never granted permission for them to be raised there.

The Arcata City Council cited this instance as a reason to remove the five billboards targeted in its letter.

“All of these billboards stand on North Coast Railroad Authority property and right-of-way, and the NCRA has repeatedly stated that it does not want them on its land, and has refused for many years to cash rent checks for the billboards,” the letter states.


Business perspectives

Husband and wife Dave and Chris Fisch of Hydesville- based Fisch Drilling are in the business of drilling water wells across the county.

“With my kind of work, one person drills one well in their lifetime,” Dave Fisch said. “My best option is to put a billboard up so that people see my name all the time. ... I do think at the end of the day, it’s the most effective way to get my message across who need my services. If there was a more effective way, I‘d be doing it.”

Wills said any removal of billboards along the corridor will harm local business, regardless of the intentions.

“You are hurting local businesses whether you want to or not. Every one is advertising local businesses,” he said. “My business is a local business and it hurts me.”

Dave Fisch said he would also be willing to move his sign to comply, but said that alternatives have yet to be brought up.

“Nobody has ever called me and said, ‘What can we do to help you out and help you move it someplace else?’” he said. “No time have I heard anyone do that. They’re not offering any solutions. They’re just saying they don’t want it.”


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