Los Olivos residents object to rainbow-colored walkways and potential lack of input for community projects

By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

and Mike Chaldu


Rolf and Robyn Richter, longtime residents of Los Olivos, have reached out to the Santa Ynez Valley Star to voice their concerns about the multi-colored crosswalk that appeared overnight earlier this summer in the middle of the small town of Los Olivos.

In the middle of June, which is recognized as Pride Month, while visiting the Los Olivos Post Office to collect their mail, the Richters, as well as other town residents, were surprised to see the crosswalks in the middle of Los Olivos painted in the bright colors of the rainbow, celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, not their usual white.

“Let me be clear, I am now and have always been a ‘live and let live’ kind of person. What signs you put up on your own property is your business,” Rolf Richter said. “But when a small minority of people take over an unincorporated town and disallow their fellow residents of having a say in what happens on the public streets in their town, well this is very concerning.

“The residents of Los Olivos were not consulted on whether they were OK with painting the crosswalks in rainbow colors. We, the residents of Los Olivos, have a say as to what happens in our little town; not just the business owners, who mostly reside out of town.”

The painting of the crosswalks in Los Olivos came after a similar proposal in Solvang earlier in the year.

The Richters heard of the proposal made to the Solvang City Council in February by business owners of a children’s gift and toy shop in Solvang, Kiel and Matt Cavalli, who are also founder and executive director, respectively, of the Rainbow House, a nonprofit geared toward the LGBTQIA+ community. 

The original proposal at the Feb. 27 Solvang City Council meeting included the painting of crosswalks on two intersections of Copenhagen Drive, along with pride banners on city-owned streetlights for the entire month of June. That was voted down by the council on a 3-2 vote.

On April 24, the Cavallis came back with an amended proposal to fly the pride banners for a two-week period in June, with no mention of painted crosswalks. That proposal was approved by a 3-2 vote as Mayor Mark Infanti, who voted against the previous proposal in February, voted yes for the amended one.

Later in that meeting, the council voted to ban all non-city banners for display after the already-approved Pride banner and Solvang Theaterfest banner are displayed this year.

“Cavalli’s proposal caused the City Council to amend the City Charter, disallowing any banners except the ‘Welcome to Solvang’ banners to be flown in the future,” said Rolf Richter, who along with Robyn attended the April 24 meeting. “This amendment eliminates the once informative and inviting banners such as Julefest, the Elverhoj Museum, and Theaterfest for example, all long-time Valley institutions, to be flown in the future. In my opinion, the Cavallis and their small LGBTQIA+ community have ruined this valuable way to announce events for everyone.”

After a similar proposal was introduced in Los Olivos, the Richters said being in an unincorporated town in the Valley, they did not have the opportunity to voice their opinions on rainbow crosswalks.

“[Jefferson] Woeste, the chair of the Los Olivos Chamber of Commerce and business owner in Los Olivos, seemed to take it upon himself to consult with Supervisor Hartmann, who consented to these crosswalks being painted in rainbow colors, without even consulting the residents or business owners for the most part,” Richter said. “The crosswalks were quickly and quietly painted. It happened at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, June 13, without anyone in the town being notified.”

Jefferson Woeste, owner of the J. Woeste plant nursery in Los Olivos and member of the Chamber board, told the Santa Ynez Valley Star he put in motion the idea to paint the crosswalk in rainbow colors during Pride Month, and then paint the walks in red, white, and blue to celebrate July 4.

Woeste said he pursued the crosswalks project after a campus club at Santa Ynez High School had rainbow colors painted on campus crosswalks and speedbumps during a week-long “No Place For Hate” campaign. After complaints from parents, school maintenance painted over the rainbow colors with white paint after just two days.

About the SYHS crosswalks, Woeste said “they were painted on a Monday, and the next day, kids are showing up and their being painted white.” Woeste claimed that out of 10 people who commented on the campus crosswalks, only three objected.

“The school approved it, and they caved to those three parents,” he said. “So therefore I thought, you know, that’s not right. Let’s see if we can do that in Los Olivos.”

Woeste said he took the idea to paint the crosswalks in Los Olivos to the Chamber of Commerce and they unanimously said yes. He said he then reached out to Scott Ramsey of Ramsey Asphalt, who did the rainbow-painting on the Santa Ynez High campus.

“[Scott’s] also the dude who deals with County Roads,” Woeste said, pointing out that department is the one in charge of approving projects like this. “He knows what’s required. He knows that if you’re going to paint a crosswalk, he knows you need flagmen, he knows there are procedures, he knows all that.

“He proposed it to County Roads and they sat on it. He told me ‘I’m sorry,’ and that he didn’t think it would happen,” Woeste said. “Bottom line, there’s first amendment rights involved, not to mention the legality and technicality, and roads goes to county counsel, county counsel says yes.

“County Roads reaches out to Joan Hartmann’s office, she’s like 100 percent ‘let’s do this.’”

“We went through every legal proper channel,” Woeste said. “We went through the same channels when we painted them red, white, and blue.”

Richter said he called Hartmann’s office twice went to the office once when it was closed, then he tried to contact Mary Nash, a member of the Los Olivos Chamber of Commerce. He said he has not heard back from either.

“No one asked us, the folks who live in Los Olivos,” he said. “We feel voiceless and no one in the Chamber even consulted us. I had initially put up several flyers, voicing my opinion, which were promptly torn down. My wife and I continued to put up flyers daily, which continued to be torn down.”

Richter also brought up another factor — the horses that ride through town.

“We are also an equestrian town with horses riding daily through the town,” he said. “One of the reasons the Solvang City Council denied Cavalli’s [original] proposal is because it is dangerous for horse and rider to traverse the colorful crosswalks. One of the veterinarians at Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic confirmed that ‘it’s a well-known fact among horse riders that stripes of any colors are dangerous for horses to tread on and they’ll bolt since they instinctively view them as cattle guards to get their feet caught in.’“ 

On Sunday, June 25, Richter heard from Meighan Dietenhofer, Joan Hartman’s Solvang representative, seven days after Richter had left a phone message for her.

“Dietenhofer had no response when I asked her why Hartman didn’t nix the crosswalk idea when she already should have known of the dangers to horses and riders as this was one of the reasons that the Solvang City Council rejected the painted crosswalks,” said Richter. 

“The people in Los Olivos pay high property taxes. It takes a lot of work to afford to live here and to not get a vote or a voice on what happens in our community feels like a slap in the face. This is not about just the crosswalk — it’s about what could happen next.”