Member take straw vote on when permits needed
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors straw voted during its Monday review of the draft General Plan Update’s Scenic Resources section to allow billboard owners to repair or reconstruct their signs — whether it be from vandalism or not — without having to obtain a conditional use permit beforehand.
In a 4-1 vote — with 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace dissenting — the board required that a conditional use permit be obtained for the construction of new billboards and the expansion of existing ones.
As the board was addressing several other billboard- related policies and standards, public commenter Debbie Provolt said that the board’s actions will not only affect billboard owners, but also local land owners who lease to those owners, those who upkeep billboards, and the advertising businesses.
“That’s four different groups of people you’re impacting by your decisions,” she said.
Several local stakeholders in the billboard business attended the meeting — some traveling long distances — to express their concern for this standard as well as other policies that board was considering on the regulation of billboards.
Local resident and landowner Tom McMurray said he leases land co-owned by himself and former Eureka resident James Hoff for four billboards along Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata. With three other billboards being illegally cut down this year with two unable to be erected, McMurray said limiting the proposed standard to billboards alone would be unfair.
“To come up with various policies, this is my opinion, that is encouraging that activity by indicating that once they’re down, some people really believe they will never come back up and we’ve seen that already happen,” he said. “So equal treatment under the law for private property, I think, is important. The question I have in regards to non-conformity is do we follow nonconforming statutes that are already in place in the county code in regards to billboards or do we set billboards apart and not have that equal treatment?”
Hoff, owner of Hoff Outdoor Advertising, called the proposed standard “regulatory overkill” by requiring signs that are already permitted to acquire a permit every time graffiti appears on their sign or a vandal cuts one down.
Others, like Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt, said that requiring permits for reconstruction or repairs would prevent poor construction standards and prevent potential damage to the environment.
“We have seen some of the billboards have been reconstructed with some pretty sketchy construction and with those being right next to the highway, I think that the safety issues might be important to consider,” she said.
Another underlying issue with the discussed policies was whether all the billboards were legally permitted to be on the land they reside on.
Lovelace considered adding language that would require the billboard owner to get written permission from the landowner if a billboard requires repairs or needs to be reconstructed.
“The reconstruction should require property owners consent if there is situation where the property owner is working to have a billboard removed or has not wanted that billboard there, that they should have the opportunity,” he said. “If we don’t allow a conditional use permit for reconstruction of a billboard in that case, then the property owner has no say in the matter.”
In a unanimous straw vote, the board approved another policy stating the county will remove billboards illegally erected on county land and advocate the removal of similar billboards outside its jurisdiction. After going through several permit procedures to put up his own signs, Hoff said he agreed with the policy after seeing “billboard bandits” erect signs without following the law.
Several public commenters said these “bandits” are still present in Humboldt County. Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Dan Ehresman said many billboards owned by national advertising company CBS Outdoor Inc. are currently placed on public trust land. “In my view, CBS Outdoor is getting a free ride on these billboards that are located on public lands,” Ehresman said, stating that they are collected rent without having to pay a landlord.
Representing CBS Outdoor Inc., Miller Starr Regalia attorney Sean Marciniak said the company owns about 90 billboards in the county, of which the land leased for about 80 of them was not under dispute.
“For the great, great majority, it’s very clear who the landowners are,” he said. “What’s being referred to is some of these signs were erected a long time ago, decades ago. And there may disputes that arise about the property ownership, but it’s not a fair statement to stand up without any proof and say that CBS has erected these without landlord permission. ... I don’t think that’s a fair statement.”
Arcata resident Dave Meserve said the board should take a strong stance on removing billboards that obstruct the view of Humboldt Bay along the Highway 101 safety corridor.
“I don’t usually quote Reagan, but I would say, ‘Mr. CBS, tear down these signs,’” he said.
As to whether the billboards along the safety corridor will be removed is currently being debated in court. CBS Outdoor filed a writ of mandate against Caltrans, the California Coastal Commission and the Humboldt County Association of Governments earlier this year after the coastal commission decided last November to require Caltrans to remove as many billboards as feasible as part of its Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project. CBS Outdoor currently owns about 20 billboards along the safety corridor. The condition was one of four that Caltrans had to agree to under a conditional concurrence with the commission in order to obtain approval for coastal development under the California Coastal Act.
A case management hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 5.