Eight banners will fly on city poles for two weeks in June, after amended application is passed

After listening to about two hours of public comment in its regular meeting Monday, April 24, and two months after rejecting a similar, more expanded proposal, the Solvang City Council voted to allow banners representing Pride Month to fly for two weeks on city light poles in June.

The motion on the item passed 3-2, with Mayor Mark Infante, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Orona, and Councilmember Claudia Orona, voting yes. Councilmembers Robert Clarke and Dave Brown were opposed.

However, later in the 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.

The application for the banners was submitted by Kiel and Matthew Cavalli, the same applicants whose proposal was voted down at the Feb. 27 City Council meeting. In that application, Matthew Cavalli, the executive director of the Rainbow House nonprofit wanted to fly the banners during the entire month of June, and also suggested a couple of crosswalks in town be painted in rainbow colors.

The application approved by council on April 24 did not involve any crosswalks and cut the length of time the banners were up to a two-weeks period that included this year’s Pride Parade on June 24 in Solvang.

The vote followed a public comment that lasted approximately two hours and included more than 50 speakers. Due to the sheer volume of people ready to comment on the agenda item, Mayor Mark Infanti proposed that it be moved to the start of the meeting, and public comments be limited to two minutes (instead of the usual three) for each speaker. The council agreed to that proposal.

An undercurrent to the public comment was the discovery of email comments reportedly made by Clarke to a local conservative group concerning the proposal that was up for vote. 

A Sunday, April 23, article in the Santa Barbara Independent reported that in email exchanges with the group Santa Ynez Valley Common Sense, Clarke called his fellow councilmembers “bozos” for bringing back a vote on the banner subject and said the council was “bowing to a tiny woke mob.” 

While Clarke was opposed to this year’s banner proposals, he had voted last year to approve the Pride Parade and Event in Solvang, but had expressed concern about performers in drag being a part of it.

Some speakers on Monday night alluded to Clarke’s email comments while voicing support for the banners, while other speakers defended Clarke, saying the reported comments are not indicative of his character.

Matt Cavalli, who was the applicant for the banners project, answered claims that Solvang was still a welcoming community despite the denial of his application in February.

“The fact is systematic homophobia and racism is not just visible, but encouraged within the council and its communication,” Cavalli said. “Last June, we were told it was OK to be visible on one weekend. You cannot say this town is welcoming and kind unless you have been in my shoes walking down the street while spat upon —

told that I was not welcome and called slurs I will not repeat.

“Banners did not cause the divisiveness, people did.”

Most of those opposed to the proposal cited the city’s banner policy, which limits the display of banners to those that directly support tourism for Solvang, not those that promote a political or religious agenda.

“I thought this issue had been put to bed,” said Jesse Bengoa, who spoke out against the earlier banner and crosswalk proposal at the Feb. 27 meeting. “You allow this, and you’re setting a precedent, and you’ll have to consider this for someone who wants to support the 

March for Life or Second Amendment Day. Vote this proposal down, and keep politics out of Solvang.”

However, there were plenty in public comment who were in favor of hanging the banners.

“This place has been a welcoming place. They want to welcome a group which my son is a member of,” said Steve Cox. “This is a chance to show grace and hospitality. No one is asking anyone in this town to replace 805 ale with Bud Light. Just show a little welcoming for a little while.”

Others bristled at the thought that the subject of sexual persuasion is considered a political issue.

“My family’s not a political matter. Banners show this is an accepting place,” Maria Bell said. “When traveling, my family looks at how accepting a town is of its gay community; it’s a matter of safety. It’s not something a straight white man has to do. It’s a decision like this that makes people decide if this is a welcoming community.”

After public comment, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Orona moved to approve the item, with Councilmember Claudia Orona seconding.

“I’ve looked at all the emails we’re trying our best to listen trying to move forward in the most positive way we can,” Elizabeth Orona said. “They’ve adjusted their app modified makes it easy to align with others we’ve accepted. Uncomfortable for many people who don’t understand the community, but that is the point. We need to move forward and accept some change and discomfort.” 

Before the vote on the banner item, Clarke defended himself against the claims he’s opposed to the Pride movement in general.

“Sorry, folks, I don’t understand, and I’m not a bad person for not understanding, drag shows, and I’m not a bad person for thinking there’s a lot of politics involved.” he said. “But the hate, the vitriol, that I’ve received via email, stalking, my trash was gone through, my recycling bin was gone through on Thursday night. I don’t understand every single point of this aspect. I’ve never said we shouldn’t have a gay pride parade, never ever ever said we should not have a festival. I just had a problem with turning over an entire town to something that’s considered political.”