A rainbow flag was waving above Scotts Valley City Hall by 10:15am on June 2—it marked the culmination of a year of work on a ceremonial flag policy. Still, a surprise political tactic the previous night at the council meeting threatened to derail its adoption.

No one spoke against the rainbow flag itself, and yet, the discussion turned the meeting into one of the most dramatic sessions of the past year.

Councilmember Derek Timm got the ball rolling on the flag policy during his mayoral term, hoping Scotts Valley would follow other area cities in raising the rainbow during Pride Month.

At the council meeting, City Manager Mali LaGoe presented two flag policy options.

Under Policy 1, the city would set out official procedures for flags but would only allow government designs to fly. Policy 2 would allow for others under specific conditions: A council member would have to propose flying the ceremonial flag; it must align with Scotts Valley’s strategic goals and priorities; no religious, political, or election flags could be flown; the city would have to “obtain” the flag; it could not fly higher than official flags, and it could stay up for a maximum of 31 days.

Timm noted many local students report being discriminated against for their sexuality.

“The youth are watching us, and I sure hope we can do the right thing,” he said.

Councilmember Jack Dilles said some LGBTQ-identifying citizens consider suicide.

“And that’s pretty heavy-duty,” he said, adding he believes Policy 2 opens the door to spreading acceptance. “I’ve certainly opened my mind a whole lot more and become a more tolerant person.”

‘Will you feel the same way if citizens for Second Amendment rights want to come forward and fly their flag?’

—Councilmember Randy Johnson

Councilmember Randy Johnson asked Timm if he was “putting the cart before the horse” by promoting a new policy to raise a specific flag.

“You’ve coupled the rainbow flag with this policy decision,” he said. “But will you feel the same way if citizens for Second Amendment rights want to come forward and fly their flag?”

Timm said he doesn’t believe local elected officials would support a National Rifle Association flag. Vice Mayor Jim Reed, too, wondered if creating a policy for ceremonial flags to support the LGBTQ+ community would open the door for others to push their agendas. Gun rights advocates who “feel under siege in California” could use a flag policy to their advantage, Reed suggested.

During public comment, Santa Cruz Councilmember Donna Meyers, Santa Cruz’s first lesbian mayor, urged Scotts Valley to adopt Policy 2.

Multiple speakers took issue with how Johnson and Reed framed arguments, given recent mass shootings still in the headlines, including the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. Jodie Fillhardt was one of them.

“Shame on you,” she said. “That is so horrific.”

Realtor Robert Aldana agreed with Fillhardt.

“As a responsible gun owner, there is no reason why I would want to fly an NRA flag,” he said. “That was completely off-base.”

Watsonville City Councilmember Jimmy Dutra, the first openly gay mayor of that South County municipality, called Timm “brave” for spearheading the flag policy.

“You guys are last,” he said. “We hope you will join us.”

Q. Licht, a Scotts Valley High School student who identifies as an LGBT community member, said flying the rainbow flag would make a difference to people like them.

“It’s such a powerful and such a visible symbol,” he said. “It would mean so much to me.”

Afterward, Reed spoke about taxes and how many residents don’t like the government and argued for rejecting both proposed options. However, to not “be caught on the wrong side” (as he’d later put it), he suggested allowing the rainbow—but no other ceremonial flag—to be flown.

“What happens if the KKK turns around and asks for the same privilege?” he asked.

Mayor Donna Lind said raising one flag—and prohibiting others—could be the more considerable legal risk, and the city attorney confirmed this to be the case.

Johnson came to Reed’s defense and called out the speakers who’d admonished them.

“In some ways, I was a bit offended,” he said. “We’re here to pose uncomfortable questions.”

Dilles seconded Timm’s motion. Reed slid a substitute motion in, aiming to raise the rainbow colors the next day while seeking to codify the Pride Flag permanently—but without adopting an official flag policy.

Johnson seconded it, “in the spirit of compromise,” he said.

Timm accused Reed of making an “off the cuff” motion that would prevent the Pride Flag from being flown this month since it would require staff to continue studying the legalities. He also accused Reed of making fear-based arguments without having raised concerns earlier.

Ultimately, Reed and Johnson voted with the others to approve Policy 2, allowing ceremonial flags to fly in Scotts Valley.

The follow-up vote to start flying the Pride Flag was also unanimous.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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