BREAKING NEWS: Rainbow flag will fly high in Hillcrest

SAN DIEGO -- Very soon, San Diego's LGBT community will see a colorful symbol of their pride flying high above the Hillcrest neighborhood.

Today, the City Council voted 7-0 to approve a proposal by the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) to install a 65-foot flagpole in the median on Normal Street where it intersects with University Avenue.

City Councilmember Lorie Zapf was absent from the vote.

The plan calls for the pole to fly an 18 foot x 12 foot rainbow pride flag year-round, and include some minor enhancements to the median, around the base of the flagpole.

Many city residents came to today's meeting to speak to the council in favor of or in opposition to the project, although the number of people present supporting the project greatly outnumbered those against.

Longtime anti-gay opponent James Hartline called the flag project a "giveaway of public land" even though that is a false claim. The city will still own the median.

Steve Greenwald called the flagpole a "public safety issue" because of its size, and fears it would topple. That was later disputed by project organizers.

Despite only a few negative comments, the audience overall favored the project. Speakers in support of the project greatly outnumbered those opposed.

Nicholas Moade, owner of Rich's and a donor to the flag project, urged the City Council to pass Item 333. "This flag symbolized tolerance and diversity," Moade said. "As long as LGBT youth are being bullied ... it is important to fly this flag as a beacon of hope."

Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director of San Diego Pride, said Pride is a partner in this private effort. He said Pride would maintain the site year-around.

Michael Brennan, a Hillcrest resident and owner of Urban Green, said the flag "represents me." As one of the project's designers, he disputed criticism that the flagpole was too large scale. "This will inspire the community," he said to applause.

Courtney Ray, who calls herself a straight ally, said the flag represents her as well.

Joel Trambley, a city Human Relations commissioner, said his panel approves of the project. He said rainbow flag is a symbol of tolerance and diversity as values that San Diego supports.

District 3 City Councilman Todd Gloria, who is openly gay, spoke in favor of the project and made the motion for approval. Gloria applauded that the project will be paid for in full without using taxpayer money. "This has been truly a community effort," he said.

“The rainbow flag represents tolerance and diversity, and the struggle for equality for the LGBT community,” Gloria said later in a public statement. “With this flag, Hillcrest is sending the message that the neighborhood stands for the principles of acceptance and inclusion.”

City Councilman Carl DeMaio, one of two mayoral candidates who is also openly gay, said a great city is defined by its diversity. He noted that the project has widespread community support and doesn't cost taxpayer money. He seconded Gloria's motion to approve the project.

City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, before the vote was even taken, asked Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, when the project would be finished. Nicholls said he hoped it would be finished before the San Diego Pride Parade and Festival in mid-July. Lightner beamed and quipped: "It better be done! ... I know where to find you."

After the council voted, applause erupted in the room. Many community members left excited about the installation of the project, which is expected to be in place in time for the annual San Diego LGBT Pride celebration, taking place July 20-22.

Some community members were unsure of the fate of the project, after it went through much scrutiny as it made its way through San Diego's planning process.

While the flagpole received the recommendations of numerous community groups, including the Hillcrest Town Council and Uptown Planners, it was met with some opposition by members of these groups.

The proposal made its way to the City of San Diego's Planning Commission last month and that group voted to not recommend the project.

Regardless of the Planning Commission's vote, the City Council has the final say, and today's vote means the project will quickly begin construction.

This year's Spirit of Stonewall Rally, traditionally known as the kickoff to San Diego's Pride weekend, will be held this year on Normal Street, around the base of the flagpole. San Diego Pride plans to ceremonially raise a rainbow flag on the pole during the rally.

The flag project is completely funded by private donations and fundraisers, including the annual Amazing High Heel Race, to be held this year on Saturday, June 16.

For more information about the project, click HERE.

SDGLN Editor In Chief Ken Williams contributed to this report.

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