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BREAKING NEWS: Planning commission rejects Hillcrest Pride Flag project, but City Council to make final decision

SAN DIEGO – The City of San Diego’s Planning Commission today voted 4-2 to not recommend the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) application to install a 65-foot Pride flagpole at the intersection of Normal Street and University Avenue, but the project could still obtain the approval of the City Council.

The proposal calls for a rainbow flag to fly year-round on the flagpole, which is in the heart of the gayborhood and near The Center.

As supporters of the project left the meeting, many were high in spirits as the proposal will next go to the full City Council, which will vote on the item on Tuesday, May 15. While the Planning Commission’s vote is weighted by the council, it is only considered a recommendation and the City Council has the final say on the project.

Nearly 40 community members, many dressed in pink, came to the meeting to express their support of the project. After waiting nearly 1½ hours while the commission heard public comment on an unrelated item, commission chair Eric Naslund informed the crowd that because the flagpole item was continued from the April 12 meeting, the public comment period was closed.

Naslund noted that he had several speaker slips submitted for the item, all in favor of the project.

“I want to remind everyone that the final decision maker on this project is the City Council,” Naslund said. “I’m not trying to circumvent the public process I just want this item to quickly get to the City Council.”

Naslund read the names of the 30 people who submitted slips in favor of the project, including Dwayne Crenshaw, Neil Ector, Jennifer Sieber, and Stephen Whitburn of San Diego LGBT Pride; Chris Shaw, Matthew Ramon, Stean Chicote, Rick Cervantes and Eddie Reynoso of Urban Mo’s; Benjamin Nichols, Michael Tactay, Lisa Weir and Nicholas Moede of the HBA; and others.

Commissioner Michael Smiley said that he objected to Naslund’s reading of the names of those who submitted slips in favor of the project.

“I think this whole thing is unfair,” Smiley said. “Some people might have wanted to voice disapproval of this project today, but knew that public testimony was closed so they didn’t show up.”

Naslund disagreed with Smiley, but said he appreciated his concern.

Commissioner Stephen Haase, who was not present at the April 12 meeting when the project was first discussed, had several questions of city staff members after watching the video of the last meeting.

Haase’s concerns primarily focused that in the future, the pole could fly a flag other than a rainbow.

“I feel like we are only approving a physical structure, and I know it’s not your intent, but anything could go up [on that pole] at anytime,” Haase said. “Without getting into a First Amendment issue [of the city regulating the content of the flag] is there a way to put some bounds on what can be flown?”

While city staff said that the application does indicate that a rainbow flag will be flown year-round, the conditions set by the city only cover the size and maintenance of the flag.

Nicholls, who is executive director of HBA, said that his group would be fine with the city placing conditions on the project that require only a rainbow flag to fly from the pole.

“Our intent is to create a monument that represents what this community stands for,” Nicholls said. “If you want to create a condition that the rainbow is the only flag that flies, we will be fine with that.”

Commissioner Susan Peerson, who voted against the project, said that she was concerned that proposed flag pole would become a community gathering place that would attract more people than the small area can handle.

“I hope this becomes a gathering place on more than just San Diego Pride weekend,” Peerson said.

Commissioner Robert Griswold motioned that the commission deny the application for the project, and Smiley seconded it.

Commissioners Naslund and Haase voted “no,” expressing their support for the project. Commissioner Mary Lydon, who represents District 3, was not present.

The project will be reviewed by the full San Diego City Council at 2 pm Tuesday, May 15. The council’s vote will be final. Should the project be approved, organizers hope to begin construction immediately so that the flagpole will be in place in time for San Diego LGBT Pride weekend, taking place July 20-22.

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