Monday, October 24, 2011

City Hall Kills Talk
Over Milk Plaza Rainbow Flag

(MUMC's flagpole base is under repair by DPW.)

Let the record show the controversy in the Castro over the rainbow flagpole on public property at Harvey Milk Plaza is in its ninth month, with no resolution in sight. Here's the latest info on efforts to implement genuine community control over this important piece of municipal real estate.

Back in September, Bill Wilson and I as members of Gays Without Borders organized a commemoration at the base of the flagpole to honor Mark Bingham and all who died on 9/11. We requested a meeting through the mayor's office with an appropriate official regarding the illegitimate control of the flag by the Merchants of Upper Market/Castro.

Open lesbian Amy Brown, who serves as the interim City Administrator of the General Services Agency, which includes the Department of Public Works the agency responsible for Milk Plaza, agreed to invite Bill and I to her office for a chat following the commemoration. Her email said:

I would be happy to meet with you both next week to discuss issues related to the rainbow flag in Harvey Milk Plaza. Could I ask that you contact my assistant, Kathy Bianchi, to arrange a mutually convenient time? Kathy is out this afternoon, so if you could either email her or call her at 554-xxxx on Monday, she can schedule the meeting.

In the meantime, I look forward to joining you on Sunday to honor the memory of Mark Bingham and his heroism.

We had a great meeting with Amy, seeking her help in creating a solution to the control issues over the public's rainbow flag at the plaza. We made it clear we welcomed the attendance at a follow-up of MUMC leaders. She made a commitment to fostering a dialogue at City Hall with Castro stakeholders and to enlist the support and engagement of Andrea Aiello, the executive director of the Castro Benefit District:

Thanks to you and Bill for coming to meet with me yesterday, and also for planning the memorial event, which was indeed very special.

Thanks also for sending these suggested next steps. I agree that connecting with Andrea and the CBD is the first thing I need to do, so I will be getting in touch with her very shortly. Once she and I talk, I should be better able to have a sense of timing as to moving forward from there. I'll keep you posted and appreciate your offer to continue helping.

My optimism was elevated over Amy and Andrea being in touch and working toward meeting for stakeholders, but after a few weeks of not hearing from Amy I asked if the effort was kaput. Her reply:

Andrea and I have connected and are continuing to discuss, so I would not say that this is either stalled or dead. My schedule has been even more crazy than usual of late, so I apologize for not responding to your prior email checking on the status. But I want to assure you that this remains on my radar screen and I feel like the conversations with Andrea have been productive, so please bear with us.

That message kept hope alive and reinforced the respect I had for Amy. Early last week, Amy set October 26 as the meeting date and informed us that it would take place at City Hall. Needless to say, Bill and I were pleased that a big step forward in finding a solution was coming together.

Andrea from the CBD spoke with assorted Castro folks and had commitments from Paul Boneberg, head of the GLBT Historical Society, and Isak Lindenauer, longtime Castro resident and business owner, to be at the City Hall meeting. Hopes were raised that the flagpole control controversy might be nearing an end, and soon our hopes were dashed.

Last Thursday afternoon, this terse email arrived from Amy's executive assistant Kathy Bianchi:

I send out our apologies, but the meeting set for October 26th at 9:00 a.m. is cancelled.

Disappointed on many levels, I replied the next morning requesting a full explanation as to why the meeting was cancelled, what next steps Amy would take as City Administrator and how we would more forward. So far, Amy and her assistant have not responded.

(MUMC's flagpole base currently displays a sign from the city.)

Adding to the mixed messages and confusion, is the matter of DPW removing the bronze plaque at the base of the flagpole to make security repairs and prevent it from being stolen. DPW and MUMC have maintained that a verbal agreement places all responsibility for the entire flagpole structure with MUMC, so why is the city doing the repair work and putting its sign at the empty plaque space?

All pretty strange and absurd, these ten months of controversy all over the simple act of lowering a flag on city property that supposedly belongs to all of San Francisco citizens, wouldn't you say?

It is often asked around these parts, "What would Harvey do?" I believe Harvey, at minimum, would take the flagpole issue and bring the community, the city and all interested parties to meetings designed to organize genuine public responsibility and control of the flag. Harvey would not allow so much time to go by, as an intransigent business group ignored the calls for change and divided the community because their president is a bully.

When November rolls around, we will enter our tenth month of controversy, due to the bullying tactics of MUMC. That is strong demerit for the current Supervisor of the Castro.

(Photo credit: Petrelis Files.)

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