by Danielle Fitts (SF2011)

One morning in late May, I stepped off the bus in the Civic Center neighborhood in San Francisco and noticed
that rainbow flags were flying from every street lamp. For those of you who are
not familiar, the rainbow flag
is a symbol of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) pride and
diversity. Rainbow flags can be found in gay districts worldwide and they become
more prolific every June during Pride
. The Castro neighborhood, most commonly associated with San Francisco’s LGBT
community, flies rainbow flags year-round in an effort to create a welcoming
and safe environment for the LGBT community and for visitors. However, the
particular rainbow flags I noticed that morning had made their way east down Market Street to Civic Center
and beyond.

As an individual, I felt an enormous sense of pleasure toward the City of San
Francisco for welcoming the LGBT community with such
openness. As a public servant, I wondered what processes were involved in
allowing the banners to be placed on every street lamp and whether this had
sparked any controversy.

It turns out the rainbow flags went through a fairly lengthy and contentious public
process before they made their way up the street lamps. On November 16, 2010
Supervisor Dufty introduced an ordinance that would amend the public works code
to allow neighborhood banners to be placed on lamp posts collectively known as
the “Path of Gold.” The Path of Gold
is a series of 321 lamps that line Market
Street from The Embarcadero to about 17th Street. Existing
law allowed banners to be posted for a maximum of 40 days on these historic
lamp posts, but an oversight had allowed the rainbow flags between Castro and
Sanchez Streets, on the border of the Mission Dolores neighborhood, to remain
in place about ten years. (In case you’re confused about the geography, check
out this map
.) However, because the
existing banners were there illegally, the Department of Public Works would not
allow them to be replaced or maintained and they had become worn and tattered
over the years. Supervisor Dufty’s law was intended to allow the rainbow flags
to remain on Market Street
in the Castro neighborhood and also would allow the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro to
maintain and replace them as needed.

Opponents of the ordinance, members of the Mission Dolores
Neighborhood Association
, argued that preserving the lamp posts in their
original historical context was critically important and that banners would
physically damage the poles and corrupt their aesthetic value. Supporters of
the ordinance (those who wanted the banners to remain in the neighborhood) pointed
out that the rainbow flag itself could be considered a historic resource because
it was created by a San Francisco
artist in 1978 and has since become an international symbol of LGBT pride.

On December 15, 2010 the City’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) held a public hearing about this Ordinance.
Following about an hour of public comment and a lengthy discussion by the
Commissioners, the HPC made a few recommendations to the Board of Supervisors
including establishing a process to increase the HPC’s oversight and
regulations for the types of fasteners to be allowed on the poles. On January
1, 2011 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors incorporated the recommendations
made by the HPC as amendments to the Ordinance . The ordinance was finally
passed on January 11, 2011 by the newly-elected Board, after Supervisor Dufty’s
term had ended, and signed into law by the newly-appointed Mayor Lee on January
18, 2011.

Under the new law, the years-old rainbow banners between Castro and Church Streets are allowed to remain. However, in
the future, neighborhood groups will be required to receive a Certificate of
Appropriateness from the HPC if they would like to display neighborhood banners
anywhere along the Path of Gold. The rainbow flags east of Church Street, like the ones I noticed on
my way to work, are not considered neighborhood banners. Instead, these banners,
which are allowed to remain for up to 40 days, have been installed in
celebration of Pride Month and the city-wide San
Francisco Pride

In the end, this Ordinance took three months to become law, was heard in six separate public meetings, pitted
several passionate neighborhood groups against each other, survived Supervisor
Dufty’s term limit, and was signed by Mayor Lee a week after he was sworn in.
All of this took place so that the rainbow flags on Market in the Castro could
be properly maintained. So this Pride Month make sure to thank your civil
servants for all their hard work in getting the rainbow flags installed and
appreciate the flags while they’re here. And, above all, have a happy Pride
Month everyone!

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