Coastal commission wins round in fight over Highway 101 safety corridor


After nearly a year in civil court, advertising giant CBS Outdoor Inc.’s bid to strip a billboard removal clause from the Eureka-Arcata Safety Corridor improvement project was dismissed by a Humboldt County Superior Court judge on Wednesday — but the battle of the billboards may not be over yet.

CBS Outdoor Inc., which owns several billboards in Humboldt County, filed a writ of mandate against the California Coastal Commission, Caltrans, and the Humboldt County Association of Governments in January 2014 after the commission decided to require Caltrans to remove as many billboards as feasible as part of the agency’s Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project. Caltrans agreed to the requirements in November 2013. The $46 million project proposes to improve safety conditions along the 6-mile corridor by closing several median crossings and constructing a raised interchange at the Indianola Cutoff.

Judge Dale Reinholtsen stated in court on Wednesday that Judge W. Bruce Watson — who had been presiding over the case before being assigned to another courtroom — approved the coastal commission’s motion for judgment on Jan. 9, which called for the dismissal of the case. The judgment came without leave to amend.

Representing CBS Outdoor Inc. and the coastal commission respectively, attorney Arthur Coon and Deputy Attorney General David Alderson agreed to the judgment as did the attorneys representing Caltrans and HCAOG.

HCAOG’s attorney William Mitchell also stated that his client was dismissed from involvement in the case through a demurrer with prejudice also approved by Watson.

Watson had previously rejected the commission’s arguments last year that CBS Outdoor’s case violated the statute of limitations — meaning it was filed too late — and that the case was too ripe — meaning it was filed too early — but invited the commission to file arguments for ripeness again in the form of a motion for judgment due to the complexity of case law on that issue. Watson granted that motion for judgment on Jan. 9.

Coon had argued against the billboard removal clause, claiming that CBS Outdoor was not given sufficient notice to challenge the commission’s conditions before they were approved and that the requirement would cause financial hardship to the company and advertised businesses. Coon also previously argued that the commission’s requirements lacked “any essential nexus” to the issue the project is attempting to mitigate, which is to reduce visual impacts near the planned Indianola raised exchange.

In response, Alderson had previously argued — citing case law — that Caltrans has not submitted the final plans for a coastal development permit yet and thus has not determined which billboards would be feasible to remove, “if any.”

Speaking with the Times-Standard after Watson took the commission’s motion for judgment under consideration in November, Coon explained what their next step would be if the motion was granted.

“We would have to refile an action at some point in the future to challenge this condition once it’s further along in the implementation process,” Coon said.

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