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Controversy gets run up the flagpole
The American flag, says retired Army Col. Linc Spaulding, was
made to be flown from a flagpole -- free in the wind, free like
this country is free. For those to whom the flag has meant so
much, the best way to view it is from a pole.
Spaulding's sentiment would draw little argument, I suspect,
particularly coming from a veteran of his stature.
But isn't it also possible to fly even the grandest of flags
in such a way that it becomes, if not annoying, at least a distraction
to those nearby? From a flagpole too large, too elaborate, too
Such thoughts are sharply at odds these days in San Elijo Hills,
a handsome, hillside subdivision in Solana Beach. Homes there
are worth anywhere from $350,000 to $650,000. Some sit near
a golf course, while others boast a magnificent view of a wooded
Now the neighborhood is home to a more unusual distinction.
It may have the two best-known flagpoles around, owned by Spaulding
and another distinguished veteran. And the neighborhood association
wants the poles gone.
Retired Navy Capt. Palmer Roberts and his wife, Bea, moved to
San Elijo Hills in 1975, buying one of the development's models,
which looked out over the valley. Roberts had spent 31 years
in the military, the cornerstone coming when he wrote the plan
used by the Seabees, the Navy's civil engineers, to build the
artificial harbor used in the D-Day invasion at Normandy.
Roberts had owned a flagpole everywhere he had lived. Not surprisingly,
he wanted one in San Elijo Hills.
The covenants and restrictions adopted for the development included
a prohibition on poles of any type. Roberts said he checked
with the developers to be sure a flagpole would be acceptable
and said he was told it would.
His simple pole, perhaps 15 feet tall, has stood in his back
yard ever since, with the American flag rarely absent. Today
it is by the rear fence, far above a road that runs alongside
the neighborhood and largely inconspicuous.
Spaulding and his wife, Georgette, moved into a house a few
blocks away from Roberts in 1986. He too had served 31 years,
in World War II, the Korean War, Japan. He met his wife in France,
where she helped smuggle Jews into Spain.
Spaulding also wanted a flagpole, and in 1991, after his wife's
death, he set out to get one. Aware of the general restriction
on poles, he suggested that the neighborhood association amend
its rules. The neighborhood voted and did not give Spaulding
the required three-fourths approval. But the overall response
was so weak that the vote was disregarded.
Still intent, Spaulding decided that if his immediate neighbors
did not object, he'd put up a flagpole. After all, he reasoned,
the association's rules would not be enforced unless someone
complained. And many rules here were antiquated.
So, Spaulding said he asked neighbors who would be able to see
the flag if they objected. Spaulding said they did not, but
the question of the pole's height apparently did not come up.
The flagpole that followed is more elaborate than is Roberts'.
At 25 to 30 feet -- some contend it is taller -- the pole rises
slightly above nearby two-story homes, with a golden eagle,
weather vane and the sidearms Spaulding needs to fly his late
wife's flag, the flag of France. The pole sits in his front
yard, easily eclipsing a fence and trees.
After it was raised, some neighbors complained to the association's
president, Laurie Catron. There were concerns about its height;
others said they hadn't been consulted, that the rules had been
So the association's board decided the fair thing to do would
be to vote again, asking if residents wanted to keep the rules
or allow flagpoles, subject to review by an architectural committee.
Spaulding went door to door, asking residents to vote. Two letters
urged neighbors to oppose the change, saying Spaulding's flagpole
would be a proud addition for city hall but not the neighborhood.
Of 192 registered homeowners, 57 voted to change the rules,
and 78 said no.
Given the vote, both Spaulding and Roberts were told to take
their poles down. Both refused. The association says Spaulding
had promised to take his pole down if the vote failed; Spaulding
flatly denies the claim, but says he did offer to lower the
"I'm inclined to feel that if I can destroy (the flag) any way
I want, as the Supreme Court has ruled, I ought to be able to
fly it," Spaulding said. He adds that flagpoles are common in
And the American flag remains a common sight in San Elijo Hills
-- all but two of them flown from short staffs affixed to the
fronts of homes.
There, despite enormous commotion, the matter stands today.
The neighborhood association has sought an injunction to have
the poles removed. Fueling matters further, Roberts was served
with legal papers on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, an embarrassment
for Catron, who says the timing was accidental. And an attempt
to take the issue to mediation has failed.
A fund for the two veterans' legal expenses has been organized
at the suggestion of Roger Hedgecock, the talk-radio host and
former San Diego mayor who has championed their cause. Offers
of help have come in from as far away as a law professor at
Northwestern University, outside Chicago.
So where would you side? With the flagpole owners, who as much
as anyone earned the right to fly their flags as they please?
Or with the neighborhood association, which allowed the democratic
process to work, not once but twice?
Taken by itself, I'm sure Spaulding's flagpole is very attractive.
Yet it isn't surprising that some neighbors would complain.
The pole is unlike anything else in this nicely tailored neighborhood,
taller than homes and streetlights.
It's also likely that the very notion of a committee reviewing
flagpole proposals, as the association's ballot proposed, was
a turn-off, smacking of government bureaucracy.
But the best evidence that the neighborhood is wrong is still
standing, in the back yard of the other veteran, Palmer Roberts.
Catron, the association president, says that to her knowledge
his flagpole has never drawn a complaint. Spaulding believes
the vote against flagpoles was dictated almost entirely by his
pole. If so, Roberts is an innocent casualty.
It would be nice to have clear, uncomplicated rules for a neighborhood
that don't require meetings or negotiation, particularly when
the governors involved -- of a neighborhood association -- serve
voluntarily. That's what San Elijo Hills has given itself in
Sadly, I'm not sure that a black-and-white regulation always
does the governed the best service. And I don't think it has
Attorney Thomas Leary represents WWII veterans
and repels attackers in flagpole flap (Second Article)