The flag flap stemmed from the following restriction in a proposed sign regulation: “Flag, traditional. A flagpole in any residential district … shall not exceed 12 feet in height, while a flagpole in all other zoning districts shall not exceed 25 feet in height. …”
That restriction galled Roger and Cynthia Mammon, who bought a 20-foot flagpole for their 20th wedding anniversary, planted it in their front yard on Oak Forest Avenue, and for the past six years have been flying the United States flag. For a while they also flew the California state flag beneath it, but anger at state government led them to replace it with a Blue Star banner bearing the motto “We honor those who serve.” Cynthia’s father, Lt. Cmdr. George Bane, was a career Navy pilot.
The Mammons’ neighbors have never complained about their flagpole and flags, according to Roger. But he has received compliments from passersby who stop and want to know where they got the flagpole and flags.
So when Roger saw the restriction in the proposed city ordinance threatening to cut his flagpole nearly in half, he felt “it was almost like a slap in the face to be patriotic. It was almost like city government trying to run amok, dictating to people what they can and can’t do on their private property.”
He and his wife spoke at the June 23 City Council meeting to ask that the restriction be removed from the ordinance.
“We proudly display the American flag and we support our troops’ flag on that flagpole in my front yard,” Roger told the council. “I will not remove that flagpole in my front yard and replace it with a 12 footer. If you look at California code section 434.5, it prohibits any county, city or property from discouraging people from flying (a flag) as long as it’s not a safety (issue) or hazardous to people. It’s legal for me to have that flagpole. This needs to be corrected and it never should have been put in there in the first place.”
Gene Bucholz, owner of Hook, Line & Sinker in the Oakley Plaza center behind CentroMart, has a flagpole on the roof of his store that flies the American flag and underneath it a yellow flag with his store name.
“What’s up with the flag requirements?” Bucholz asked the council. “I fly my flag above the building. I also believe in ‘In God We Trust’ on the money. To me, even having this issue is a slap in our service people’s face; it’s a slap in America’s face. It’s about time that people take back America.”
After Mammon raised his objections, Oakley Senior Planner Joshua McMurray backed off on the regulation, saying that it conflicts with the Oakley municipal code. That code allows for 20-foot flagpoles anywhere in the city unless they are attached to a building, in which case they can be no taller than 15 feet. In addition, he suggested that the American flag should be excluded from another regulation limiting the width of the flag to no more than one-quarter of the length of the flagpole.
City Attorney Bill Galstan said that government code “does prohibit most restrictions on the display of the United States flag. Cities are allowed to have some regulations, not for aesthetics but for health and safety issues. I think in Brentwood many years ago there was an issue about a flapping flag causing some kind of noise in a neighborhood. One would think the higher up it is the less noise it would make. I’m not an expert on acoustics. In any event, the easy way to solve that is that the restrictions on the height of flagpoles would not apply to a flagpole that is used to fly the United States flag.”
“We could add that in for sure,” said McMurray.
“Thank you for adding that in,” said Mayor Carol Rios. “We certainly don’t want to hinder the flying of the American flag. I would think it would sound good to have it flapping.”
While the U.S. flag will receive the exemption, it was not clear whether a different flag flying below the American flag on the same pole would also be exempt.
“I’m glad you have amended your (ordinance) to exclude the American flag,” said Cynthia Mammon to the council. “We also fly a ‘We honor those who serve’ flag. That is not an American flag. So will that be an issue? The question is: Is the issue the height, or is it the flag that you’re going to fly? Because if it’s the height and 20 foot is the limit, will you require people to top their trees? That’s what I want to know: if 20 foot is the issue.”
No one answered her question. In a later interview, Roger Mammon was asked whether he’s concerned about city officials forcing him to remove his “We honor those who serve” flag. “I am not concerned, because I won’t do it,” he said. “We have people that fight for our freedom. And I would think that them trying to remove or get me to take it down are almost like squelching my First Amendment rights of freedom of speech.”
The council did not adopt the flag regulations, which are part of a sign ordinance that will come back for a vote on Aug. 11.