Midpeninsula Post

New Los Altos resolution creates formal process for flag-raising

Los Altos City Hall in October 2022. (Eason Dong)

Los Altos residents and third-party organizations may now apply for a flag of their choice to fly in front of City Hall and other city properties, per a resolution approved by the city council on Tuesday. The policy is set to go into effect on Dec. 29.

The city, state and national flags currently fly in front of City Hall. This resolution will allow an additional flag to be flown below the current ones and on other city properties for seven days. Formerly, there was no clear outline as to what flags could be flown — everything had been done on a case-by-case basis.

City manager Gabriel Engelend said the resolution was prompted by the Shurtleff v. City of Boston case in May, in which the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Boston’s decision to reject an application from a conservative activist for a “Christian flag.” This resolution outlines a formal application process to prevent similar legal issues from happening in Los Altos.

Although the resolution would allow any Los Altos citizen to submit an application for their flag of choice to be flown, there are a few restrictions. Applications will be rejected if they promote a business; advocate for the overthrow of the state or federal government; support discrimination of any sort; endorse a political candidate or proposition; or are “considered highly offensive of persons of average sensitivity,” according to the resolution.

The resolution passed with a 3-2 vote. Vice Mayor Sally Meadows and Councilmembers Jonathan Weinberg and Neysa Fligor voted for the resolution, and Mayor Anita Enander and Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng voted against it.

“By adding all the city speech, it takes away from what our flags are,” Lee Eng said. “I think there may be too many flags and the focus wouldn’t be on what our government flags represent to most people. I personally want to keep it to the American, State and City flags.”

“I think we are doing our community entirely a disservice by, for example, not allowing a rainbow flag during Pride month,” Weinberg said. “I don’t think we have to worry about the Confederate flag. … No political flags are going to go up.”

Multiple councilmembers raised concerns about the logistics of approving flags.

Enander said that the council does not have a staff trained to objectively evaluate the flags, which could potentially further the “slippery slope.”

“Just because a flag was raised, doesn’t mean we have to approve a similar flag. We have discretion,” City Attorney Jolie Houston said. “What we’re doing is not trying to open our flagpoles to become a public forum where anybody can raise a flag.”

Lee Eng questioned whether, if a flag request came forward and fit the same criteria as a previous approval but then got denied, the city could get sued.

“I am concerned … about a slippery slope,” Lee Eng said. “I think people are highly sensitive lately, and it creates potential for controversy and potential litigation.”

Lee Eng also said that potential flag-related controversies might take time away from the  council that could otherwise be used to address more pressing issues, such as housing.

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