Aldaron Laird is well-known as a local sea level rise expert and environmental consultant, but his career began long before rising seas became a concern. I first began working with him on the Humboldt Bay King Tides Initiative in 2011, when he suggested that it would be a good way to turn the public’s attention to the bay during the annual extreme high tides that will soon be the norm.

An avid kayaker, hiker, and photographer, Laird is also known for his extensive knowledge of historical ecology and the complex regulatory framework that governs environmental protection and restoration. He is a long-time proponent of the Public Trust Doctrine, the ancient law adopted by California in 1850 that declared that no one can own the seashore, the air, the oceans, or navigable waterways—these public trust resources belong to all of us.

Laird began his environmental career as a tree planter after graduating from Humboldt State University in 1978. He was a founding member of the Northcoast Reinhabitation Group, a natural resources/forestry contracting and consulting firm based in Blue Lake. Among the Group’s work was some of the first watershed restoration projects in the Redwood Creek expansion area of Redwood National Park in the late 1970s. They also planted millions of trees in Humboldt and Trinity Counties to reverse the damage done by clearcutting, logging roads, and landslides.

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The council spent more than an hour debating what future digital signs may have in the city.
Community Development director Rob Holmlund explained the current regulations and the staff recommendation that digital signs be allowed in some areas; that there be restrictions on sizes; that there be restrictions on the amount of a sign that is digital; and the potential banning of digital billboards.

“I’d like to see a reduction in the size of all of our signs,” Councilwoman Natalie Arroyo said, adding that in her view most signs were like “visual noise.”

In the end, the council chose to move forward with the staff recommendation with some adjustments — the addition of amortization, having a design review committee review all proposed digital signs and looking at dimming requirements for signs between day and night use.

“The goal for the whole thing is to have is be in place by September or October,” Bergel said after the meeting.

She said a full ban on digital billboards is hoped to be in place by July.

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This year the Trump Administration announced an executive order to restart a five-year oil and gas leasing program that would impact the outer continental shelf of the United States, our coastlines. 

However, the U.S. Department of Interior faced some backlash over which areas were being considered for these new projects, including protest and opposition from Humboldt County officials and local environmentalist groups. The county passed a resolution to oppose offshore drilling last week. 

This included a brief explanation by Supervisor Mike Wilson at the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting, as to why they should adopt a resolution and protect the North Coast's resources while also joining other communities across the West Coast. 

"It's not just a stand federally, we're currently doing our local coastal planning process and this stance will inform that process. This is a message to our planning department, as we move forward, and the community of where the Board of Supervisors stands on this and it should be reflected in our land use policies. It has more in it than just responding to the interior department," Wilson said. 

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State Senator Mike McGuire’s office is drafting legislation that would completely dissolve the North Coast Railroad Authority, the state agency that has run the mostly moribund railroad line between Humboldt County and the Bay Area for nearly 30 years.

In its place, McGuire’s draft legislation would create a new state body — the “Great Redwood Trail Agency” — to manage railroad assets between here and Willits. The agency would be charged with railbanking the line and eventually building a multiuse trail on the right-of-way.

McGuire’s draft legislation comes at a time when the North Coast Railroad Authority is facing intense scrutiny from state oversight agencies. In December of last year, the California Transportation Commission called on the state legislature to form a special commission to hash out the future of the authority, whose operating budget comes almost entirely from the sale and lease of publicly owned real estate assets. No trains have run north of Sonoma County for the last 20 years.

In addition, the authority has gone rogue in the last year. Despite being an agency of the state, it has asked the United States Supreme Court to overturn a state Supreme Court decision that held it to state environmental law. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear the petition.

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The California Coastal Act for decades has scaled back mega-hotels, protected wetlands and, above all, declared that access to the beach was a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone.

But that very principle could be dismantled in the latest chapter of an all-out legal battle that began as a local dispute over a locked gate in San Mateo County.

On one side, property owner and Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla wants Martins Beach, a secluded crescent-shaped stretch of sand and bluffs, to himself. On the other, generations of beachgoers demand continued access to a path long used by the public. The squabble has spurred a spate of lawsuits that now focus on whether Khosla needs state permission to gate off the road — and a string of California courts has said he does.

Unwilling to back down, Khosla is now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court over his right to shut out the public. His latest argument not only challenges the constitutionality of the Coastal Act — if taken up by the nation's highest court, it would put into question long-established land use procedures and any state's power to regulate development anywhere.

Ralph Faust, who was the commission's general counsel from 1986 to 2006, said said a striking difference between the Nollan case and Martins Beach is that Khosla is challenging the Coastal Act "as written, not as it's applied."

Nollan applied for a permit but didn't like the stipulations the commission required, so he challenged them, Faust said. Khosla is skipping that step altogether and arguing that the requirement to seek a permit — as well as the state court injunction to maintain the status quo of keeping the gate open while the matter is being decided — violates his rights as a property owner.

"That's a pretty stunningly broad attack on state government," Faust said. "If he were to win on that and just get a declaration that the Coastal Act could not possibly be constitutionally interpreted to require a permit for that kind of development — that would be just huge."

The Nollan case unfolded in unexpected ways and to this day affects the way access rights are argued and how land should be set aside for the public, Faust said. Should the Supreme Court take up Khosla's appeal, the implications are beyond imaginable.

"Just because you think you know what the situation is when you're talking about a case, doesn't mean that's how it's going to look if the Supreme Court actually decides something," he said.

"These things take on a life of their own."

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