By Kathy Chouteau
The San Pablo City Council recently passed the city’s first policy on the use of flags on city flagpoles after one of its members and 10 local pastors requested the Christian flag be flown at City Hall throughout this month.
The new policy provides the city with more control over what can accompany the U.S., California and City of San Pablo flags at city sites. Approved by a 3-2 vote at the council meeting on May 18, the policy declares the use of flag and flagpoles at city sites for the purpose of government speech rather than as a free speech zone, and prohibits flags of a religious movement, political party or ones that endorse passage or defeat of a ballot measure.
The policy, however, allows commemorative flags, such as the LGBT Pride flag or Pan-African flag, to be temporarily flown under the city’s flag at the request of a councilmember, and following a 3-2 majority vote by council.
Some debate preceded the resolution’s approval. On April 1, Councilmember Rich Kinney emailed Mayor Arturo Cruz, City Manager Matt Rodriguez and City Attorney Lynn Nerland a letter on behalf of the Christian Churches of San Pablo. The letter was addressed to the mayor and City Council and requested a proclamation from the City that would acknowledge the National Day of Prayer on May 7, as well as permission for the Christian flag to fly on the City Hall flag pole during May.
“We understand that there is no city flagpole policy in place preventing such requests from community groups, and since others have been permitted to fly their flag, it would be appropriate to accommodate our request,” wrote Councilmember Kinney in his letter. “A flag will be provided for use at the new City Hall flagpole.”
On May 4, the City Council approved the National Day of Prayer, and directed city staff to craft a policy on use of flag poles.
During the May 18 meeting, Councilmember Kinney urged the council to consider a policy that permits only U.S., California, San Pablo, and POW/MIA flags to be flown, believing that since a Christian flag cannot be flown, no other “commemorative” flags should be flown, either.
In the end, City Council voted in favor of a policy recommended by its city attorney. Councilmembers Abel Pineda, Rita Xavier and Cruz voted for the resolution, while Councilmembers Kinney and Elizabeth Pabon-Alvarado voted against it.