Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – In considering the General Plan Update’s policies on billboards, a majority of supervisors has decided to change draft language and allow reconstruction of billboards without discretionary permits.
The Board of Supervisors took on one of the update’s most high profile issues when it reviewed the scenic resources section at an Oct. 6 hearing.
On the table was a policy in the Planning Commission draft of the update that requires conditional use permits for construction of new billboards as well as repair or reconstruction of existing ones.
That is highly relevant to the U.S. Highway 101 corridor between Arcata and Eureka, where billboards along Humboldt Bay have been targets of criticism – and vandalism. Others have blown down in storms. Agencies like the North Coast Railroad Authority have clearly stated that bayside billboards in their rights-of-ways are unwanted.
Jim Hoff has invested in land on which to install billboards. He said he resents the presence of what he called “bandit billboards.” He added that unpermitted billboards are unfair to those whose billboards are permitted and properly zoned.
But most supervisors supported striking the Planning Commission’s inclusion of reconstruction as requiring a conditional use permit. Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper proposed what she described as a compromise – requiring landowner consent instead of permitting.
She said contracts or other consent mechanisms for billboards that have been up for decades are no longer relevant if public agencies that control the land they are on now oppose them.
“CBS owns most of the ‘bandit billboards’ around here, they don’t have landowner permission,” she said. Kalt added that discouraging vandalism is understandable but “we’re also trying to bend these rules to try to get rid of billboards that haven’t had landowner permission in decades.”
Many of the billboards along the Humboldt Bay shoreline are owned by CBS Outdoor. Walnut Creek attorney Sean Marciniak represented the company and focused on past conditions.
“It’s not a fair statement to stand up without any proof to stand up and say that CBS has erected these without landlord permission,” he said. He prefaced the statement by acknowledging that it has been decades since some of the billboards were erected and said disputes “may arise about the property ownership.”
Supervisor Mark Lovelace supported Kalt’s proposal to require current landowner consent. Often the lone dissenter on policies supported by the property rights-conscious board majority, Lovelace evoked property rights principles in pressing for the landowner consent clause.
“I’m not hearing interest from the board in separating out reconstruction and requiring that the property owner actually have the right to say whether or not they want to see that billboard reconstructed,” he said. “But that’s the situation I see here – there’s a burden of proof issue and I think it’s fair for the property owner to have the right to say whether or not they want to see that billboard go back up.”
But Marciniak countered that billboards are considered legal if they have not received violation notices in five years and said the burden of proof of illegality is on landowners.
Other supervisors did not support requiring permits or landowner consent for re-erecting billboards. The approved policy only requires permits for new construction. Lovelace voted against it.
Another billboard policy calls for supporting the efforts of public agencies to remove billboards from their rights-of-way. It was approved, with Board Chairman Rex Bohn dissenting due to concerns about getting involved in litigation.
On another draft policy, supervisors removed a section that barred billboards from using electronic messaging or animation and expanded the timespan of a billboard permits from five to 15 years.
The modified policy was opposed by Lovelace but supported by the rest of the board.
The board will continue its review of the scenic resources section on Oct. 20.