Caltrans relents on Orcutt flying the flag, sort of 

Two months ago, I wrote about the plight of a private, Tocquevillian-style civil association in the small town of Orcutt. That group, the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association, has raised $60,000 in private donations to build a flagpole — from which the American flag would fly — encircled by a memorial to the U.S. armed forces.

The flagpole and monument would be located between a highway exit and an adjacent park-and-ride lot, at the entrance to the community’s Old Town section. But the California Department of Transportation refused to grant approval for the project. Finally, citing a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Caltrans declared that hanging an American flag on public land constitutes an impermissible act of “public expression.”

Steve LeBard, who has spearheaded OTORA’s effort, has continued to make his case to the California Legislature and Caltrans directly, aided by TV coverage from Fox News. A bill to overturn Caltrans’ ruling stalled in the Legislature, but a process has now been initiated whereby the state would sell the small patch of land in question to Santa Barbara County, which hopefully would be more accommodating. The process is expected to take four months, and OTORA would write the check on behalf of the county.

Meanwhile, Caltrans has agreed to let OTORA put up a flagpole — not quite where it wanted, and not in connection with a memorial to the armed forces, but rather in the middle of a sidewalk near the memorial’s intended site. Caltrans’ determination was made in response to LeBard’s insistence that California law requires nothing less: The long-standing law says, “The Flag of the United States of America and the Flag of the State of California may be displayed on a sidewalk located in or abutting on a state highway situated within a city.”

Because OTORA has yet to receive permission to build the memorial to the armed forces, or to build the flagpole where it wants to build it, the flag will be hung atop a temporary pole — one that was used at an Orcutt schoolhouse and that was donated privately. LeBard has since refurbished the pole, which is 30 feet high and made of wood.

But one could hardly say Caltrans has been accommodating. The agency told OTORA it could not place the flagpole 10 feet off the sidewalk, leaving space for the armed forces memorial; could not expand the sidewalk enough to accommodate the memorial; and could not build a new, short sidewalk off the main sidewalk, with the new sidewalk leading to the flagpole and memorial.

However, Caltrans told OTORA it must expand the sidewalk slightly to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Caltrans also won’t provide access to the park-and-ride’s existing power feed to light the flag — even at OTORA’s expense — so the flag will have to be raised every day and taken down every night.

Caltrans would, however, “gladly consider allowing” OTORA to provide its own electrical feed, so long as it complies with a long list of regulations Caltrans outlines.

This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.

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