By the end of the year, only four billboards will be left standing along Humboldt Bay between Eureka and Arcata.
In an agreement with Caltrans that was publicly announced on Friday, the billboards’ owner Outfront Media Inc. — formerly CBS Outdoor — will remove 10 billboards along Humboldt Bay before the end of the year, thus clearing the way for the proposed Humboldt Bay Trail and the construction of a new interchange at the Indianola Cutoff.
Caltrans District 1 Public Information Officer Myles Cochrane said the two parties have been attempting to reach an accord throughout the summer.
“We realize that some people are going to be impacted by this negatively and we recognize that,” Cochrane said, “but taking those billboards down is necessary because we are very passionate about the safety of people traveling in our district. ... We felt that protecting our district’s safety was the highest priority here.”
But for Allpoints Signs owner Geoff Wills, who maintains many of Outfront Media’s billboards along the corridor and advertises his own business on one of the signs now slated for removal, it will come as a significant hit to his business.
Wills said the billboard just north of Eureka that advertises his business had recently led to him obtaining a significant contract. “The advertising value is the main loss,” Wills said.
Allpoints Signs also lost two of its billboards in March 2015 when Caltrans revoked its permits due to the signs residing on North Coast Rail Authority land.
Several billboard-removal advocates like Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said the agreement is taking the right direction and that five of the 10 billboards are situated on public lands without permission. Kalt said she has learned that the billboards are now supposed to come down within the next 30 days.
“It’ll be great to see these billboards finally come down after so many years of work by so many people who will never get credit for it,” she said. “But they know who they are.”
The North Coast Rail Authority has been seeking to have the billboards removed from the safety corridor since at least the 1990s as many of the signs were situated on their land — including the three that were removed in March 2015.
“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” the authority’s Executive Director Mitch Stogner said.
What Outfront Media Inc. gets out of the agreement is currently unknown. Cochrane deferred all questions about this aspect of the agreement to Outfront Media.
Multiple attempts to reach Outfront Media on Friday were not returned.
For Caltrans, the benefit of the billboards’ removal will be to advance its Eureka-Arcata Highway 101 Safety Corridor Improvement Project by complying with a mandate from the California Coastal Commission.
The commission has mandated that Caltrans remove as many billboards as feasible along the safety corridor where Caltrans is currently working to create a raised interchange at the Indianola Cutoff.
“Part of their mandate is for an accessible coastal zone for the public and for scenic beauty,” Humboldt County Association of Governments Senior Planner Oona Smith said.
The nearly $50 million project seeks to improve traffic safety at the interchange, which had an accident rate 43 percent above the state average for intersections and ramps between 2009 and 2014, according to a Caltrans study.
Caltrans must remove the billboards in order to obtain coastal development permits, which are required for the project to advance.
The requirement was challenged in court by Outfront Media — known then as CBS Outdoor — in 2014, but the case was dismissed by Judge Bruce Watson in January 2015 who stated that it was filed too early as Caltrans had yet to identify any billboards for removal.
The Humboldt Bay billboards have been a point of local controversy to the point that an unidentified vandal or vandals took a chainsaw and illegally cut three of them down in 2014, with one being rebuilt without the city of Arcata’s permission. However, that same billboard was felled once again in December 2015 when a driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran into it.
Kalt said four billboards — the three standing just north of the eucalyptus trees and one near Bracut — will remain standing along the bay, each currently standing on private property.
“We’ll keep fighting to get rid of those,” she said.
Two billboards were also removed from State Route 255 in 2014, according to Cochrane.