Public comment split on proposal by founders of Rainbow House nonprofit

By Mike Chaldu

In an item that elicited a good amount of public comment, the Solvang City Council voted to deny a proposal to display pride banners and rainbow-colored crosswalk on two of the city’s intersections to mark Pride Month in June as well as the second Pride Parade and Festival in Solvang on June 24.

During the regular council meeting on Monday, Feb. 27, Kiel Cavalli asked the council to approve his request to have pride banners hung on the city streetlights and the crosswalks on two Copenhagen Drive intersections (1st and 2nd streets) to be painted in rainbow colors during the month of June.

Kiel Cavalli and his husband Matthew are founders of the Rainbow House nonprofit and own the children’s toy shop ONEderChild at Copenhagen and 2nd Street.

The decision facing the council about the proposal is whether the pride banner is allowed under the city’s Banner Policy, which reads: “The purpose of the Streetlight Banner Program is to assist in the advertising and promotion of destinations or events that support tourism in the City of Solvang. Approved as part of the Streetlight Banner Program are City of Solvang sponsored “Special Events” and designs promoting Solvang’s Danish theme. This program is NOT intended to support political or religious purposes or purposes primarily involving private financial gain that do not promote tourism or the City of Solvang.”

Public Works Director Rodger Olds told the council the issue was “Is this proposal for promoting tourism for Solvang? Can it be defined to support political or religious views? We feel it is promoting the city?”

Councilmember Robert Clarke pointed out the the applicants sold pride flags in their store, which could be considered against the “financial gain” part of the policy.

Councilmember Claudia Orona asked Olds what other banners have been placed on the streetlights, and Olds ran off a list of entities, including city events like Julefest and the Scarecrow festivals, but also the Elverhoj Museum and PCPA.

In public comments, Kiel Cavalli, the applicant, was the first to speak, explaining his reasons for the request.

“Your approval of the banners and crosswalks would send a message to the community and beyond that the city of Solvang sees us, hears us and supports us,” he said.

After Cavalli spoke, Jessie Bengoa was next at the podium to express her opposition at the proposal. Describing herself as a brand marketing executive, local property owner and fifth-generation Solvang resident, Bengoa focused on Solvang’s identity.

“I am not here in any capacity whatsoever to judge or admonish the LGBTQ+ community, and I think that’s important to say,” she said. “That said, our town has a culture, it has a heritage. We have a brand that’s unique. It’s the first rule of branding to know who you are and unwaveringly stick to it. You don’t confuse, you don’t divide, you don’t alienate visitors or potential visitors by suddenly waging a woke campaign that not inclusive — it’s divisive.”

Damian Kriteman, who said he’s Solvang resident since 2012, was also opposed to the idea on many fronts, claiming that it is a political declaration and sets a precedent for other political causes, the applicant has much to gain financially from it, and it can bring civil lawsuits.

“This application fails every policy in place,” he said. “There is no choice but to deny.”

Speaker Charlotte Becerra brought up another issue, this one having to do with the colored crosswalks: They could spook the horses that sometimes come through town, and the horses that drive the Solvang Trolley.

“Horses don’t have detailed eyesight; they could see the stripes and balk,” said Becerra, whose husband Ramon is a noted local horseman. “If horses are spooked and someone is injured, who is liable?”

Among those supporting the proposal was Pastor Chris Brown of Bethania Lutheran Church, who reacted to some of the comments from speakers before.

“I’m hearing some comments, and we can talk about Solvang being a welcoming place,” Brown said. “But just last year, a couple of young individuals took two pride flags down and the filmed themselves burning them and saying that was gay people’s futures. So we can’t say Solvang is a welcoming place when our own citizens are making it feel dangerous for a portion of our society. It is important for us to show that we see people who historically have not been seen.” 

David Silva, who spoke after his husband Jason Stone, disagreed with the idea the pride symbols were a political statement.

“My existence is not a politicial statement; it’s who I am,” Silva said. “I have a right to exist, and I have a chance to say Solvang stands with its gay community; we spend money, we’re here.”

As the issue moved back to council, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Orona wondered if the crosswalk modificiations could be made at intersections where horses wouldn’t necessarily walk by.

“Come back with a different location,” she said. “Reapply where it’s not a safety issue with the horses or trolley.”

Councilmember Claudia Orona said she believed the banner policy should be looked at.

“Banners promoting Solvang events are fine,” she said. “I don’t think it falls under political, but banners like PCPA or Wildling [which have been displayed] aren’t expressly for the city.”

Ultimately, Clark, Mayor Mark Infanti, and Councilmember Dave Brown decided that the proposal wasn’t in line with the policy.

“The proposal, the symbolism doesn’t advance what you think it does,” Brown said in making a motion to deny. “I don’t think it meets the tourism and economic advantage it claims.”

Clarke seconded Brown’s motion after taking issue with public comments saying that Solvang wasn’t a welcoming community.

“When people want to disparage this town; I take offense to that,” said Clarke, who noted he voted to approve last year’s pride parade. “This is the friendliest God d— town I’ve ever been in. Everybody is welcoming to everybody.”

The motion to deny passed 3-2, with Elizabeth and Claudia Orona both dissenting.

The next Solvang City Council meeting will be Monday, March 13, at 6 p.m.