Coastal Commission rides roughshod over billboard owners' property rights

November 26, 2013 | By PAUL BEARD

The California Coastal Commission is at it again, trying to rid the coastal zone of all things private and commercial.  But this time, it’s doing so indirectly–using another state agency to do its bidding.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is the state agency responsible for managing and improving California’s highway system.  It has a proposal to improve the Eureka-Arcata 101 corridor to, among other things, make it safer for motorists.  The proposal would remove uncontrolled left turn lanes and replace them, in part, with an interchange.

Of course, Caltrans had to get permission from a slew of other government agencies, including EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  It also had to get permission from a sister agency, the Coastal Commission.

The Coastal Commission gave Caltrans’ project the green light, subject to certain conditions.  One of them requires Caltrans to “remov[e], to the maximum extent feasible, all billboards along the corridor.”  That’s right.  The Commission wants Caltrans to rid the area of eight private billboards located on private property.  The reason?  Caltrans’ project will produce “visual impacts” that can only be mitigated by the removal of the private billboards.

The Commission’s demand raises all sorts of constitutional issues, as outlined in a letter authored by billboard owner attorneys and sent to the Commission.  Besides threatening owners’ rights in their billboards, the Commission failed to give billboard owners adequate notice that those rights were at risk when the agency took up the issue at a September hearing.

Given the stakes, the Coastal Commission can expect a legal battle if Caltrans moves forward with the billboard condition.  But the case highlights once again the Commission’s hubris–and utter disdain for private property.