Council approves flag graphic for city police vehicles


The City Council Chamber was rocked Tuesday night with jeers, cheers, hisses, clapping, chants of “USA” and an impromptu rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” 

A majority of the standing-room-only crowd spoke with one voice: support for the graphic on Laguna Beach Police cars that they equated with honoring the American Flag, with the opposition seen by some as akin to treason. The City Council supported the majority, 4-1, with Councilwoman Toni Iseman opposing.

“This didn’t start out about the flag, but it became about the flag,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, whose frequent attempts throughout the raucous, two-hour hearing to quell the clamorous reaction to speakers and council comments were ignored.

The crowd, estimated at more than 200, quieted at the request of Jennifer Zeiter for 10 seconds of silence to honor those who have given their lives to protect America.

Zeiter was among the 47 members of the audience who spoke their minds about the graphic – some in costume, some carrying a flag.

“I felt sad when I heard there was a dispute,” said Wendy Baker Offield, whose family has lived in Laguna for four generations. 

Council approves crowd

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The crowd was quite vocal in supporting the flag graphic

Mike Mitchell, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said taking the graphic off the cars would break his heart.

“I like the graphic; it is recognizable,” said Annamarie McIntosh, a Girl Scout for 12 years. 

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said the bottom line for him was the police preference for the graphic.

“I think it makes us look more together than anything we’ve ever done,” said Dicterow.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said she voted for the graphic because it was important to the police. 

Fewer than 10 speakers opposed the version currently on the cars, most of them requesting only minor changes to the design, which has the letters POL backed by a blue ground with stars and ICE backed by red and white stripes. Some claimed the prominence of the ICE was intimidating to immigrants. 

Fabiola Kinder suggested extending the blue background to include the I. 

Three speakers opposed the graphic as it is.

“I disapprove of using the flag as a graphic,” said George Weiss, who served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The federal government doesn’t approve of it either.”

Laguna Beach resident and businessman Chris Prelitz was soundly booed when he said he was speaking for 20 or 30 folks who were intimidated by the rhetoric related to the hearing.

“It is sad that it has come to this,” said Prelitz, who has subsequently received hate mail and critical phone calls. 

Iseman said she almost didn’t want to come to the meeting because of comments made to her about her loyalty to America.

“I live with a patriot; I come from a family of patriots,” Iseman said.

“The issue as I saw it was one of procedural. We felt that the police wanted black cars, unanimously, [we voted] black cars. We were shown a graphic, we agreed to it. And then all of a sudden something else happened. So, we needed to come back, because that’s what we do,” Iseman said.

“There’s not a person up here that doesn’t support the police,” Iseman continued. “We respect, honor and love the work that they do.”

“But to make a flag the question of honor. I actually believe that it’s more honorable to put a real decal on the car, a real flag, and forget the graphic that to me looks kind of like a paper plate on the Fourth of July. It doesn’t do the flag the honor that it deserves.”

She also questioned Dicterow’s evaluation that the city looks more together than ever before. 

“This meeting was divisive,” she said. “A lot of people were not here because I warned them not to come.”

Artist Carrie Woodburn, who opposed the graphic on its artistic merit, was among those who opted to stay at home.

“For the first time in my life, I have been threatened unjustly; my place of business has been threatened,” she advised the council. 

Woodburn sent a copy to the council of one of the 250 emails she said she has received, one that included a threat. “Subject: To The Artist Fool Who Hates America, and the Sawdust Board, and Councilman Blake: Carrie, your hot wind bag mouth, protesting THE AMERICAN FLAG, will cause a lot of problems, as we’ll BOYCOTT Sawdust due to your Anti-American bullshit. If you don’t like the flag…LEAVE. Or, we’ll force you out, economically.”

Councilman Peter Blake spoke on Woodburn’s behalf at the hearing.

“I thought artists should be included,” Blake said. “I am not a big flag waver, [but] I love the car the way it is.”

Woodburn said she has been pilloried as a flag hater on television when in fact she stated she never mentioned the flag.

“I was questioning the process which you all know was sidestepped,” she wrote in an email to the council.

The council approved in February the police department’s long-standing desire to restore the black and white color scheme to police cars. They also approved Police Chief Laura Farinella’s choice of a graphic, a subtle coloration that City Manager John Pietig described as cloud-like. That version was deemed unacceptable after a trial painting and Farinella opted for the brightly colored graphic without consulting the council and bypassing a public hearing.

Residents asked the council to review Farinella’s choice because the council had not authorized it.

The announcement of the review resulted in a hullabaloo on social media, picked up across the country by whose authors felt compelled to participate in the discussion.

By the day of the hearing, City Hall had received 224 emails: nine of them which stated they came residents of Laguna Beach; 69 identified the writers as people living outside of Laguna Beach; 146 of the emails were from an unknown location.

Additional emails have been sent to City Hall, but had not been counted by the deadline for this article.

Whalen said the hearing was not a political rally, but a show of support for the police department.

“What’s on the doors will not change the demeanor of the police,” Whalen said. “Our police represent everyone. You may one day be in the minority and you will appreciate that.” 

In a related action, the council approved a revised police vehicles motto that reads “Serving Our Community with Pride and Integrity.”

To view the meeting in its entirety, visit the City’s website here.