Coastal Commission expects Caltrans to eliminate signs as part of its Highway 101 safety project


The next round in the battle of the bay billboards may take place not along the 6-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka, but in Humboldt County Superior Court.

CBS Outdoor Incorporated, which in a document filed by its attorneys claims to be the owner of about 20 billboards along the, is asking the court to rule against the California Coastal Commission, which in November of 2013 made the removal of all corridor billboards one condition of its approval of Caltrans’ Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project.

“Implementation of the commission’s condition by Caltrans would unlawfully and completely deprive CBS of these signs and their benefits,” the court document states. “The CBS billboards that the commission seeks to remove do not interfere with any scenic views of Arcata Bay in any significant way … ” Billboard removal was one of four conditions Caltrans agreed to in November in order to obtain the commission’s approval for the project that seeks to increase safety at several locations along the highway corridor.

In the petition filed near the end of January, CBS Outdoor’s attorneys state that the company was not given a fair chance to argue against the condition, which they said violates its property rights under both the U.S. and California constitutions.

“The commission failed to provide CBS with adequate notice regarding the conditional concurrence, approval of the condition and consideration of the revised findings in support thereof, and thus violated CBS’s due process rights,” the petition states.

The company also claims in the document that the landowners who lease their property for the billboards have “reasonable investment-backed expectations” for their continued operation.

Humboldt Baykeeper Policy Director Jennifer Kalt said that many of CBS Outdoor’s billboards reside on public land owned by either Caltrans, the North Coast Rail Authority or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It is pretty bold of them to use the property rights argument when the majority of those billboards are not located on property where they have consent of the landowner,” she said. “Property rights arguments ring hollow when they don’t actually own the property.”

According to a 2007 billboard location assessment conducted by the county Public Works Department, 16 of the 18 surveyed billboards along U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka were in the right of way of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Corporation, owned by the North Coast Rail Authority.

CBS Outdoor’s petition states that the “commission’s persistent and stubborn refusal to follow the law” has also placed a financial burden on CBS Outdoor due to “substantial costs and attorneys’ fees.”

Multiple calls to the coastal commission for comment were not returned before deadline.

Caltrans District 1 Spokesman Scott Burger said he was also unable to comment due to the department’s “policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

The Humboldt County Association of Governments is also being targeted in the petition as a “real party of interest” due to it being “responsible … for programming and approving the financing of the project, including the financing of actions necessary to implement the (commission’s) condition.”

The association’s executive director Marcella Clem said she would not comment on the issue as it is pending litigation.

One of CBS Outdoor’s three attorneys, Anthony Leones of Miller Starr Regalia Law Firm, also said he was unable to comment for the same reason.

Several calls to CBS Outdoor’s California headquarters were not returned before deadline.

No court dates have been scheduled for the litigation as of Monday afternoon.

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