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Uptown Planners give green light to Hillcrest Pride Flag project

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego’s LGBT community had a lot to celebrate Tuesday night after a local planning group approved a proposal to install a large flag pole in Hillcrest that will fly a rainbow flag year round, on the same day the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional.

With a Prop 8 celebration rally happening outside Joyce Beers Community Center, where the meeting took place, the Uptown Planners, a citizens group that provides recommendations to the City of San Diego regarding land use and projects in the communities encompassed by the Uptown Community Plan, voted 8-6 in favor of the project, after nearly 45 minutes of discussion and comments.

While the vision for the project has been floating around for some time, the project was first presented to Uptown Planners in October, as part of the permitting process for the project, which will be located on Normal Street at University Avenue in Hillcrest. At the time, board members had additional questions about the scope of the project and tabled a vote on it until Tuesday night’s meeting.

Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA), presented a PowerPoint presentation to the board to attempt to answer some of the group’s questions that arose at the previous meeting. Nicholls adressed the size of the project, which his group plans at 65 feet, and questions about placing cultural symbols on public property.

The HBA has taken on the responsibility of raising funds for the project and being the entity responsible for the structure. San Diego LGBT Pride will regularly maintain the rainbow flag that will fly year-round.

While muffled chants and cheers from the nearly 250 outside at the Prop 8 rally were heard by those in the meeting room, a crowd of about 40 people watched the proceedings with some sharing their opinions with the 15-member board.

Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride, told the board that his organization is committed to the Hillcrest Pride Flag project and they hope to see the first rainbow flag raised on it by this July.

“I am proud to be a part of a community that embraces diversity and equal rights,” Crenshaw said.

Addressing the concern expressed by some residents and board members that the scale of the flag is too big for the neighborhood, Crenshaw said that it is important for the symbol to be large and visible.

“We go big or we go home," Crenshaw said.

One community member raised concerns about a project of this type being placed on public land.

“While I congratulate the LGBT community on their victory today, I am concerned about the city endorsing a special group,” community member Ian Epley said. “We should think about endorsing projects that celebrate diversity but not singling out one group.”

Epley was the only person who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting who was in opposition of the project, although a man standing in the back room was seen nodding in agreement with his remarks.

Other endorsements of the project came via statements submitted by Nick Moede, owner of Rich’s nightclub and president of HBA; City Councilmember Carl DeMaio; and Tom Luhnow, CEO of the Greater San Diego Business Association (GSDBA).

Ed Camarillo of the Range Kitchen & Cocktails shared the endorsement of his restaurant, and local activist Stephen Whitburn refuted the community member who was concerned about placing a LGBT equality symbol on public land.

As Leo Wilson, chair of Uptown Planners, read the statement submitted by Luhnow, several board members chuckled as the statement shared statistics about the LGBT community’s spending power and travel habits.

Once public comment concluded, the board held its deliberations.

Board member Rhett Butler said he was “conflicted.”

“I firmly believe in an area’s right to choose what they want in the neighborhood,” said Butler, who then asked if the Hillcrest Town Council, a local residents group, had endorsed the project, which was unclear.

Another board member raised concerns about the flag being placed on public land, comparing it to the city’s legal battles over crosses and religious symbols.

After the first few board members who spoke seemed to share their objections, board member John Lamb spoke up about his colleagues. “I find these objections to be sad,” Lamb said. “I think this project is great.”

The board’s discussion continued for another 15 minutes or so, with more questions about the height, size and financing of the project. After the vote was taken and the motion passed, applause erupted in the room.

Wilson, who was concerned that the meeting may have been unruly because of the support that had been rallied in favor the project, thanked the crowd for remaining respectful and civil throughout the meeting.

The project will now go before the city’s Planning Commission, before it reaches the City Council for a final vote. More information about the Hillcrest Pride Flag project is available HERE.

Left photo- Benjamin Nicholls addresses the Uptown Planners. Credit: Jim Winsor.