Let’s review the Great Humboldt County Billboard War to date: September 2013: The California Coastal Commission in a 9-1 vote gives Caltrans the go-ahead to build an interchange at the Indianola Cutoff as part of its Eureka-Arcata Route 101 Corridor Improvement Project — providing the agency meets certain conditions. One of these conditions is the removal of all billboards along the corridor.
November 2013: During a presentation to the Humboldt County Association of Governments board on Caltrans’ estimated $46 million corridor project, Caltrans Project Manager Kim Floyd estimates the cost of removing eight billboards that sit between Humboldt Bay and U.S. Highway 101 at $2 million — a quarter of a million dollars per billboard. The board balks at the cost.
Jan. 2, 2014: A representative of CBS Outdoor Inc. reports to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office that one of its billboards along the southbound lanes of the corridor has been chopped down by an unknown vandal or vandals using a power tool. It is, according to a sheriff’s office, an act of felony vandalism. Damage is estimated at $15,000. Baykeeper policy director Jennifer Kalt calls the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department that same day to place a stop-work order on the billboard before CBS Outdoor Inc. can rebuild it, arguing that the billboard is on Caltrans land. A Humboldt County building inspector posts the order.
Jan. 3. The stop-work order is withdrawn after Chief Building Official Todd Sobolik of the Planning and Building Department researches the property and concludes that it is either owned by the federal government or the state, and is outside of the county’s jurisdiction.
Jan. 9: A multi-agency ad hoc committee formed by HCAOG in October meets to collaborate on efforts for the corridor project, including the billboards issue. Caltrans Project Manager Richard Mullen, a member of the subcommittee, confirms that every billboard on both sides of the corridor is being investigated to determine ownership of the land beneath.
Jan. 10: Another billboard, this one next to Gannon Slough bridge on the west side of southbound Highway 101, within Arcata city limits, is found cut down.
Damage is estimated at $15,000.
Jan. 11: The billboard is found back up the next morning, rebuilt in violation of the city of Arcata’s building code. The city retaliates by threatening legal consequences unless a building permit application is submitted by Jan. 24.
Regardless of your opinion of billboards, this is no way to resolve a conflict. Setting aside hundreds of years of bloodthirsty frontier rapaciousness for just one moment, we are supposed to aspire toward a republic not of chainsaws, nor of hammers in the night, but of laws.
These acts of vandalism not only trample over the rights of the billboard owners, but spit in the face of anyone who involved themselves in the long, drawn out, multi-agency public process that led to the plan now being pursued by Caltrans.
This opprobrium applies to the clandestine rebuilding in equal measure. Vigilantism on either side of this mess only makes matters worse. We call on all parties involved to de-escalate this standoff and resolve their differences in a peaceable and legal manner.
Because no matter who owns the land or the billboards, we all have a stake in the rule of law being observed in Humboldt County.