In a “virtual” meeting Thursday evening, the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 4-2 to deny a special permit that would have allowed Eureka’s AllPoints Sign Company to rebuild a billboard that was toppled by high winds back in November.

The sign has been located in the coastal wetlands near Elk River for at least 65 years, according to a staff report and historic photographs. Its construction predates all the zoning and building codes that would apply to any new structures. So the debate at last night’s meeting focused largely on the question of whether rebuilding the sign constitute repair or new construction. 

Jennifer Kalt, director of the environmental nonprofit Humboldt Baykeeper, told the Outpost that sign companies usually don’t bother applying for permits to rebuild fallen signs. Instead, they simply rush out and rebuild them without permission. And she scoffed at the notion that this particular sign dates back more than half a century. “There’s probably not a single board left from the 1940s, let’s face it,” she said. “This county has been talking for 40 years about regulating these things [billboards] to get them out of scenic and coastal wetland areas, and it’s time to just do it,” she said.

 

UPDATE: On February 20, the Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 4-1 to postpone the Special Permit on the fallen Elk River billboard until more information is provided. The new hearing date was scheduoled for March 19, but has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The billboard uprights snapped in a windstorm on Nov. 27, and although billboards are not allowed in wetlands or floodplains - and the County does not allow billboards anywhere but lands zoned for commercial or industrial uses - the county staff is recommending approval.

Two billboards that crumbled under strong winds in that powerful pre-Thanksgiving storm may be gone for good. The Humboldt County Planning Commission is expected to decide their fate at a public meeting sometime in the next two months. 

One of the two billboards face-planted on the north side of Hwy. 101 between Arcata and Eureka. When the tide was high this billboard’s footing was nearly submerged by the waters of Arcata Bay.

The other billboard was south of Eureka between Humboldt Hill and Elk River Road, on the east side of the freeway. It, too, sat close to coastal waters, near the confluence of Elk River and Swain Slough. 

Jennifer Kalt, executive director of Humboldt Baykeeper, has been among the most vocal critics of these roadside advertisements. She said the latest two to fall should not be resurrected.

“These billboards should never have been built in coastal wetlands and shouldn’t be rebuilt since the county code only allows them in commercial and industrial land,” she told the Outpost

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Two billboards collapsed into Humboldt Bay wetlands in recent storms - one along the Highway 101 Safety Corridor, and one in the Elk River marsh adjacent to Highway 101, just south of Eureka. We will keep an eye on these to ensure that all applicable permitting and environmental review is done before any billboards can be rebuilt. 

These signs were all built long before current permitting and land use planning, and would never be allowed to be built in coastal wetlands today. 

Since 2012, 18 billboards have been removed from the shores of Humboldt Bay, mostly along the Highway 101 Safety Corridor between Arcata and Eureka.