San Diego Planning Commission approves Harvey Milk Street, delays Hillcrest Pride FlagBreaking News Thursday, April 12th, 2012
The San Diego Planning Commission, a seven member body responsible for recommending changes to the city’s General Plan and its neighborhood community plans, has approved a proposal that would change the name of Blaine Avenue in the historically LGBT neighborhood of Hillcrest to Harvey Milk Street, in honor of the slain gay civil-rights leader who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in America. If, as it is expected to do, the San Diego City Council votes to approve the commission’s recommendation to go forward with the name change, San Diego will be the nation’s first home to a street named after Milk.
Because the advent a major U.S. city renaming one of its streets in honor of Milk is likely to happen in San Diego first, there is reportedly some ire among civic leaders in San Francisco, which currently has no such avenue, boulevard or street. Milk was assassinated in 1978 along with Mayor George Moscone by a disgruntled former fellow supervisor who had only days earlier resigned from the San Francisco (combined city and county) Board of Supervisors.
Longtime LGBT activist, Nicole Murray-Ramirez, chairman of the committee which proposed the street naming and Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride spoke before the planning committee, highlighting Harvey Milk’s service in the Navy here in San Diego and his advocacy and work with César Chávez a Latino civil rights activist who had strong ties to the region and who has become an icon of the Labor Movement as reasons the city should rename a street in honor of Harvey Milk.The commission approved the motion recommend the name change in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Robert S. Griswold casting the only vote of opposition.
This move followed on the heels of tabling a proposal to erect a 65’ Pride Flag on the median of Normal Street near the University Avenue intersection in Hillcrest. Commissioners Robert Griswold and Mike Smiley expressed various concerns about what statement would be made if the city erected a large rainbow flag on public property. Griswold’s and Smiley’s voiced concerns prompted Deputy City Attorney Nina Fain to advise the commission of the first amendment implications of disapproving the project based on the content of the message.
“We would have to demonstrate compelling government interest in disapproving this proposal since we do allow these types of statements elsewhere,” said Fain.
Commissioner Tim Golba questioned Ben Nichols, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, the group leading the project whether or not they had considered putting an American Flag, and a state flag over the rainbow flag to address concerns by some about the message leading Commissioner Smiley to incorrectly cite that such a display would be impermissible under Title 36, Chapter 10, of the U.S. Code which governs display of the American Flag. There is no such provision prohibiting the flying of a rainbow-colored flag beneath the American Flag.
“We considered that in our discussion…” said Nichols, then stating “the code would require that the flag be lit at all times.” The selected site does not meet that requirement.”
Commissioner Susan Peerson, while supportive of the flag proposal, expressed concerns about safety of the site during rallies and as a gathering place.
Commission Chairman Eric Naslund disagreed saying “I appreciate your concerns, but I don’t share them. I see myself in the rainbow flag and I am not a member of the gay and lesbian community.”
Commissioners Griswold and Smiley introduce a motion to disapprove the proposal which failed 3 to 2. The motion failed despite having the majority of members present in support because of an ordinance that requires the commission have four members in agreement. The commission will reconsider the motion at their April 26 closed-session meeting to allow for absent commissioners to weigh in on the issue.
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