The rainbow gay pride flag that flew over Calistoga's City Hall for just three days is back in storage after some residents complained about advocacy banners appearing next to the state and national flags.
"We realized there was a potential legal issue in allowing this group to fly their flag on our pole, then we turn around and some other group would be saying, 'We want to fly our flag, too,'" City Manager Richard Spitler said.
The flag went up Friday to honor Napa County's extended Gay Pride Week, a 10-day festival from June 14 to 23. Resident Scott Klinepier asked the City Council in May to raise the banner and Mayor Chris Canning asked Spitler to see that it happened, provided there was no regulation prohibiting it.
Spitler said his research suggested there was no local, state or federal law prohibiting the display, although it had never been done in Calistoga before, so he authorized raising the banner.
That, however, did not sit well with former Mayor Jack Gingles, who has been involved in city politics for more than three decades. He complained last week, shortly after the flag went up.
"To me, the flag is a statement; it's a form of promotion" that should not be flying in proximity to official government flags, he said. "To me, it's offensive."
Gingles said he has no objection to the city celebrating gay pride, or any other cause, just as long as it is not using the official flagpole to do so.
"If you want to hold a parade, hold a parade," he said. "I'm supportive of a parade."
It was not, however, Gingles' objection alone that brought down the flag midday Monday. Instead it was a question by two-time mayoral candidate, and longtime Gingles nemesis, Kurt Larrecou that finally did the trick.
Larrecou made a request Monday for documents related to how the flag was approved. City officials were forced to admit the council never formally considered the matter and that the city has no policy for how to handle such flag requests.
Like Gingles, Larrecou insists he has no objection to the message of the rainbow flag; he was merely concerned about the policy implications. He said he would support having a separate pole, possibly on the City Hall bell tower, to fly cause-related flags of all sorts all the time.
"Everybody should have a flag up there for a week," Larrecou said. "There could be a signup sheet ... You can't have one organization have a week without everyone having a week."
Calistoga has positioned itself in recent years as a gay-friendly destination, and its inns and spas are regularly touted in publications oriented toward gay travelers.
Canning, who also leads the city's chamber of commerce, said he does not fear a tourist backlash, particularly since the removal was not motivated by any bias against Gay Pride Week.
"I am more concerned about the message it sends to residents, who might not be as aware" of Gay Pride Week without the banner flying at City Hall, Canning said.
Supporters of Napa County's gay pride event expressed disappointment at the flag's removal, though they said they understood the legal objections.
"The rainbow flag's bright colors stand as a needed beacon of hope for many residents in our county who feel disconnected, isolated, and — some, even — unsafe," said Ian Stanley, program director for Napa's LGBTQ Connection.