Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Planners pan banner ban


One of the rainbow banners, in need of repair. Photo: Matt Baume
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Supervisor Bevan Dufty wants to allow the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro to maintain rainbow banners on lamp posts along Market Street, but even in the Castro, rainbows face a labyrinth of bureaucracy, protest, and environmental review.

The existing law allows banners to appear on Market Street lamp posts only within several days of a special event. Afterward, they must be promptly removed.

But due to an apparent oversight, the rainbow banners on Market Street in the Castro have remained in place for about a decade. By now, they're tattered and have caused rust damage to the poles, which have been deemed historic.

Eight months ago, Dufty introduced a new ordinance to allow banners year-round, provided that they are properly maintained, cause no damage, are vetted by the city as appropriate symbols for the neighborhood.

Dufty's legislative aide Alex Randolph made the case for banners at last Wednesday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting. "The banners have become an important visual demarcation of the Castro neighborhood," he said.

The Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association opposes long-term banners for the entire length of Market.

"We'd like to request an environmental review and environmental impact report," said Peter Lewis, president of the MDNA.

MDNA members said that they would not speak with the press, but provided public comment at the preservation commission meeting as well as a written letter of protest.

"While we completely support the diversity in the area, and we have nothing against the rainbow flags ... we strongly oppose the permanent placement of rainbow banners or any other banners all year long, since they damage this important landmark and are simply being used as a political tool," the MDNA letter states.

The lamp posts on Market Street date as far back as 1916, and are part of a historic city landmark called the "Path of Gold." According to the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, the Path of Gold was erected from Embarcadero to Seventh Street in 1916, and the poles were extended to Castro Street in the 1980s.

The MDNA letter also points out that the preservation commission recognizes the south side of Market from Octavia to Sanchez as the boundary of the Mission Dolores neighborhood. The rainbow flags would "obscure the gateway to our historic neighborhood," the letter continues.

Initially, the rainbow banners were to stretch from Castro to Octavia. As a compromise, Dufty suggested narrowing their range from Castro to Church. MDNA members oppose all banners, and particularly objected to having any west of Sanchez, which they claim as the western edge of the Castro.

After an hour of discussion, the commission voted unanimously to approve long-term banners on the Path of Gold.

"The Castro is extremely important as an international symbol," said openly gay Commissioner Alan Martinez. "I definitely do think that it's important to have these banners."

"When I look at Market Street as a whole and these light posts, they intersect a community, the LGBT community, that is historically significant," added Commissioner Karl Hasz.

The new ordinance moves now to the Board of Supervisors, which is in recess until January.

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