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Planning Commission reviews LGBT community projects

SAN DIEGO – Members of the local LGBT community headed to City Hall this morning, to hear the city’s Planning Commission deliberate over two land use proposals in Hillcrest; one to install a flag pole that would bear a rainbow flag year-round, and the other to name a street after legendary civil rights hero, Harvey Milk.

While organizers of the proposal to rename Blaine Avenue as Harvey Milk Street left with the commission’s affirmative recommendation, proponents of the Hillcrest Pride Flag project will need to return to the commission’s meeting on April 26 for another vote.

The City of San Diego’s Planning Commission is made up of seven citizens appointed by the city council who make recommendations to changes in the city’s General Plan, as well as community plans.

With the exception of a few subdivision and permitting issues, the commission’s actions are not binding and are passed on as recommendations to the city council, which has final say on planning and land use matters.

If approved, Pride flag will fly all year long in Hillcrest

Two local residents registered opposition to the flag project and shared their concerns with the commission.

John Robinson, who was wearing an American Flag jacket and noted his family’s longtime roots in the Hillcrest area by explaining Robinson Avenue was named after his family, said he does not want to see the proposed flag pole waving a rainbow flag year-round.

“This is America,” Robinson said. “I want to see an American flag on top of that pole.”

Michael Singleton, a principal at KTU+A, a planning and landscape architecture firm on Normal Street, also expressed concerns with the project.

“I’m concerned about the overall scale of the project – it’s too high,” Singleton said. “I’m also concerned about the precedent that will be set by private applicants wanting to use public land.”

Singleton shared a rendering created by his firm which showed a 20 foot sphere-like public art project at the site proposed for the flag project, the median on Normal Street, where it intersects with University Avenue. Singleton believes a project of the smaller scale he suggested is more appropriate for the site.

“I think the median needs an exclamation point,” Singleton told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. “But I would like to see the culture of the community integrated in public art, in whatever expression the community wants, rather than the literal statement of a flag.”

Eddie Reynoso, community activist and marketing & PR director for Urban Mo’s, spoke in favor of the project to the commission, emphasizing that the rainbow flag is a cultural symbol. In regards to claims that the height of the project is out of scale with the community, Reynoso noted the many car dealerships that are single-story buildings and have flag poles in their parking lots standing 50, 60, 70, and up to 100 feet high.

As Reynoso ended his remarks and left the podium, Robinson yelled from his seat, “Those flags aren’t on public property!”

Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, and Michael Brennan, the landscape architect who created the plans for the project, also spoke in favor.

Some members of the audience were visibly unhappy with some of the comments of the commissioners as they shared their concerns about the project.

Commission Vice-Chairperson Tim Golba shared numerous concerns about the project, including the flag itself.

“The single and sole element [of the flag] is not inclusive of everyone,” Golba told his colleagues. During his remarks, Deputy City Attorney Nina Fain interrupted Golda to remind him of the public’s first amendment rights in the public right of way.

“The city cannot regulate the content,” Fain said. “The issue is not whether the city is endorsing the message, but whether it allows a compelling government interest to regulate the message.”

Commissioner Robert Griswold made a motion to reject the project, saying he did not agree with staff's findings as proposed in the application.

Chairperson Eric Naslund disagreed with his colleagues, saying he believes the application is ready for approval, and that he appreciates the rainbow flag itself.

“The rainbow flag implies that a lot of people can live together,” Naslund said. “I’m not part of the LGBT community, but I can see me in that flag.”

Two of the commission’s seven members, Stephen Haase and Dennis Otsuji, were not present at the meeting, which led to a 3-2 vote on the proposal. The commission needs at least four votes on either side for an action to be moved forward, so the Hillcrest Pride Flag project will appear again on the commission’s agenda on April 26.

San Diego may don another "first" with "Harvey Milk Street"

The proposal to rename Hillcrest’s Blaine Avenue as Harvey Milk Street came up later on the agenda, but included a much shorter discussion.

Representatives from San Diego LGBT Pride and the “Committee to Commemorate Harvey Milk” spoke to the commission to share their proposal, which if passed, would make San Diego the first city in the nation to have a street named after the LGBT civil rights icon.

Blaine Avenue runs two blocks from The San Diego LGBT Community Center to Cleveland Avenue, with Normal Street as an intersection.

According to San Diego Pride, the proposal is particularly significant, because Harvey Milk was stationed in San Diego while he served in the U.S. Navy as a diving instructor.

The project passed 4-1, with Griswold voting in opposition. No opposition was expressed from any members of the public or the commission regarding the project.

The committee hopes that the project can be completed in time for Harvey Milk’s birthday, which is observed on May 22.

Both projects will now go before the San Diego City Council for final approval.

For more information about the Hillcrest Pride Flag project click HERE.

For more information about the Harvey Milk Street project click HERE.

Left images: KTU+A's rendering of a public art project at the intersection of Normal Street and University Avenue. The art project was created by Vicki Estrada and Harmon Nelson.