John Ross Ferrara
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Local activist Dave Meserve’s online petition “Humboldt Billboard Bye Bye,” reached the 1,000 signature mark on Saturday.
According to the former Arcata City Councilmember, signatures from the Change.org petition will be presented at local city council and Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meetings in March.
Meserve posted an update titled “Over a thousand signatures!” on the petition webpage Saturday, thanking those involved for their support.
“Thank you everybody who signed and shared the petition. Please continue to talk to your friends about this and get them to sign,” Meserve wrote. “In early March, we will be presenting the petitions at local city councils and the Board of Supervisors meetings, asking them to take action to urge Caltrans to revoke leases on the illegal billboards, and demand that CBS/Outfront remove all those that violate current law. It will help our cause to have people like you attend those meetings and voice your support.”
This is the latest in a decade long battle to restore the scenic U.S. Highway 101 view by removing all billboards from public land along Arcata Bay.
Several government entities involved in the process have expressed interest in removing the billboards. However, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is reluctant to tear them down unless there is sufficient evidence of a California Outdoor Advertising Act violation. Until then, Caltrans will continue to renew advertising permits with CBS Outdoor, now known as Outfront Media.
The CBS Outdoor LLC v. California Coastal Commission lawsuit was recently dismissed by Judge W. Bruce Watson. However, based on his past experiences, Meserve believes the legal battle isn’t over.
“It stems back to when I was on the city council from 2002 to 2006. Back then we had a lawsuit against Verizon, but now it’s Outfront Media… It’s the same corporate entity,” Meserve said. “As a council member, I had to keep allocating more and more money for an attorney. It cost tens of thousands of dollars, and we finally won the case. But what we learned is they had limitless pockets to litigate.”
Meanwhile, The North Coast Rail Authority has ceased collecting payment from the billboards. The California Coastal Commission is also attempting to force its hand by requiring Caltrans remove the billboards as part of the Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project.
Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said Caltrans has been mostly unresponsive in the billboard removal process.
“It seems like [the process] should be a simple thing, it’s really not that complicated,” Kalt said. “The only reasons the billboards still stand is because Caltrans keeps renewing the permits without landowner permission.”
Land ownership is another highly debated argument. Many of the billboards were erected on privately owned land. However, government agencies involved now believe the billboards sit on mostly public land. Research to determine boundary lines is still pending.
Third District Supervisor for Humboldt County Mark Lovelace said he is displeased with the pace of the removal process but that the property dispute will be resolved.
“A lot of these billboards have been there for a long, long time, and there is uncertainties in who owns the property in some cases. So there is a lot of research being done,” Lovelace said.
The lengthy process has proved frustrating for concerned Humboldt County citizens, resulting in several incidents of vandals cutting down the advertisements themselves.
The Humboldt Bay Billboard Bye Bye Facebook page gained recent attention when it placed protest signs beside several billboards around the bay on Feb. 6, which read “Mr. CBS/OUTFRONT: TEAR DOWN THIS BILLBOARD.”
Although the signs were removed, Meserve said the group will continue placing them because the signs are protected by First Amendment rights. The environmental activist also said the irony of building signs that advocate for the removal signs was intentional.
“Our signs actually have more of a right to be there than the billboards because ours are political free speech,” Meserve said. “We realize the irony and our signs will come down the moment the billboards do. We’re trying to keep this all in good humor.”
Meserve stressed that he is not out to destroy the economy, and that there are alternative advertising options for local businesses.
“We think the local businesses can advertise just as effectively elsewhere, especially in this digital age.”